McDERMOTT — In turning the West Senators over and often on Saturday night, the Portsmouth Trojans’ turnaround on defense —despite only two games in —is on full display.
And, fourth-year Portsmouth head coach Bruce Kalb knows it.
“Different defense, huh?,” said Kalb, with a laugh and when approached for his postgame media interview on Saturday night.
But the Trojans’ defense, in all seriousness, is getting it all done —and as a result Portsmouth is off to an impressive, perhaps even mildly surprising, 2-0 start.
That’s because the Trojans turned the “host” and rival Senators over five times, and turned two turnovers into bookending touchdowns, as Portsmouth pulled away for a 34-7 non-league victory at a sun-splashed —and sauna-like —Roy Rogers Field at Northwest High School.
That’s correct, as the Trojans —which gave up 66 and 49 points respectively last season in Ohio Valley Conference road losses at Coal Grove and Chesapeake — have only allowed 10 total points to date.
Against visiting Valley in the opener, only after a lengthy interception return to set up a half-ending field goal did Portsmouth give up any points.
Against West, the Senators’ only touchdown came courtesy of a 66-yard pass from quarterback Mitchell Irwin to Alex Blevins — with five-and-a-half minutes remaining in the opening half.
Otherwise, the Trojans trailed nary against West, forced five Senator fumbles including four lost, and put a fourth-quarter exclamation point on the victory in the final minute and 38 seconds.
Leading 21-7, Portsmouth manufactured an amazing 99-yard, 17-play, eight first-down, 10-minute and 18-second scoring march — in which senior quarterback Drew Roe threw and completed only two passes, and which he and Amare Johnson were the only ballcarriers.
Roe ran in for the touchdown from seven yards out, and Reade Pendleton picked Irwin off only three plays later with 53 seconds showing —scoring from 20 yards away to make it 34-7 with Zach Roth’s fourth and final extra-point kick.
That was actually the second defensive score for Portsmouth, as on the third play of West’s opening drive, defensive back Dariyonne Bryant picked up a fumble at the Senators’ 36-yard line —scooping, scoring and even shell-shocking the Senators with only three minutes and 24 seconds gone by.
Simply put, they opened with a defensive TD, closed with a defensive TD —and in between the Trojans took a 21-7 advantage on another normal Roe night at the office.
Oh, and throw in a goal-line defensive stand for the Trojans as well.
It’s what Kalb wanted to see for sure —on a steamy Saturday night in Roy Rogers country.
“I could not be more pleased with our defense than I am right now. I mean what a turnaround from a year ago,” said an elated Kalb. “It’s nice to see when you double down on things in the offseason pay off. Whether that is schematically, how you approach practice, how you approach preparation, adding a couple of guys to the coaching staff. It really helps to put the emphasis on that. We haven’t given up a rushing touchdown yet, a field goal last week and a blown pass coverage this week are the only scores (allowed). Just couldn’t be happier. We have guys taking just as much pride in playing defense as they do playing offense. Everyone loves scoring points, but we have guys chomping at the bit on the sidelines to play defense.”
While West did fumble five times including losing its first four, perhaps no empty possession hurt more than the Senators’ late third-quarter drive — which ended up inches shy of the goal line.
Trailing 21-7, West moved eight plays and almost 80 yards over three-and-a-half minutes and all the way to the 1-yard line, even breaking the rulebook out to bring to the officials’ attention about an abnormal aiding-the-runner penalty.
But with four cracks at the end zone from inside the Trojans’ 10, including twice at the goal line — the Senators’ Irwin and Ryan Sissel found themselves stopped short.
On 4th-and-1, and on the opening play of the fourth quarter, Sissel’s dive attempt at the plane was blown up by senior Jalen Jones — resulting in a massive turnover on downs.
“Mentality, that was probably the game. We had the ball inside the 1-yard line and couldn’t punch it in. We feel there is no excuse for that, and that we are good enough to get the ball in the end zone,” said first-year West coach Todd Gilliland. “We felt we were doing a good job at the line of scrimmage and blocking and running the ball. We just didn’t score.”
“If they score there, then the dogfight continues,” said Kalb.
Instead, it set up the aforementioned monstrous scoring march, of which Portsmouth ran 15 of its 22 total rushing plays in the game.
The Trojans tallied 22 attempts for 88 yards —with only seven rushes and seven yards coming before that drive.
The dual threat Roe, who completed 17 of his 26 passes for 189 yards and two first-half touchdown tosses to Donavan Carr, registered 13 rushes for 76 yards —and his seven-yard score with 1:38 to go.
Roe recorded gainers of 13, 12, nine and eight on that drive, and completed passes to Pendleton for 10 and Bryant for another eight.
“That’s probably the first drive we’ve had like that with this kind of (pass-oriented) offense. We haven’t had a drive like that since my first year here when we had the quarterback under center with a tight end and two backs, including a fullback. But once again, Drew has that pre-snap option read when we call those plays in —whether it’s a pass play or a run play,” said Kalb. “The fourth quarter just shows his knowledge of the game and of situations. He knows we were in milk-the-clock mode, he is watching that play clock tick down, he makes sure he gets the first down, he makes sure he puts the ball where it needs to be. It was just incredible to watch him lead the team down the field. Eating up that much clock, that was him managing the game. He did a wonderful job.”
And, Roe kept the ball in his hands —and out of those of the Senators.
“We couldn’t get a stop when we needed it. Drew Roe made a lot of nice plays,” said Gilliland. “When we got him into a third-down situation, we just couldn’t get off the field.”
West’s eight fourth-period plays resulted in the aforementioned goal line stop, a sack of Irwin for a 3-yard loss, Pendleton’s pickoff and paydirt return for 20 yards, and five pass incompletions —four consecutive of which were on the Senators’ final series.
Irwin completed 7-of-17 passes for 169 yards —highlighted by the 66-yard scoring connection with Blevins.
Sissel carried 18 times for two yards shy of an even 100, as West ran six more plays from scrimmage (54-48) —including 37 rushes for 112 yards.
Unfortunately for the Senators, their storylines were their lost fumbles —and unable to score ANY points from twice inside the 5.
West then didn’t see the football for 10-and-a-half minutes in the entire fourth quarter.
On the Senators’ possession following Bryant’s score, West went eight plays from its own 39 to the Portsmouth 5-yard line in four minutes and 16 seconds —but their second lost fumble occurred right there.
It indeed was a pair of 14-point swings in the game’s initial 7:50.
Sandwiched around West’s third lost fumble, and a pair of Senator three-and-outs and punts, Roe fired his TD strikes to Carr nine minutes apart in the second stanza—for 35 and 34 yards.
“It could have 100-percent been a totally different game, but you can’t turn the ball over five times against a good team. You just can’t do it. There’s nothing you can do when you turn the ball over that many times, and Portsmouth did what a good team does and took advantage of it,” said Gilliland. “We stayed in the game right until the final couple minutes, but we just couldn’t put the ball in the end zone because of mistakes that we made. All of our wounds were self-inflicted tonight.”
And, those Senators’ mistakes —whether big or small — have resulted in them opening at 0-2.
“Hey, o-2 is 0-2. Would’ve, could’ve, should’ve doesn’t mean anything at the end of the day,” said Gilliland. “We’ve made mistakes, but the only thing we can do is come back and work on correcting those and go back at it again next Friday.”
The Senators start a true three-game road stretch at Adena, while Portsmouth —with a chance to start 3-0 —plays host to Cincinnati Deer Park.
“Hats off to these seniors, who continue to take this program forward,” said Kalb. “They are buying into what we coaches are selling them. They have taken ownership of this program and are stewards of this program right now. I couldn’t be more pleased with being 2-0, and especially with the turnaround defensively.”
* * *
Portsmouth 7 14 0 13 —34
Ports. West 0 7 0 0 — 7
P — Dariyonne Bryant, 36-yard fumble recovery return (Zach Roth kick), 8:36, 1st (7-0 P)
P— Donavan Carr, 35-yard pass from Drew Roe (Zach Roth kick), 9:33, 2nd (14-0 P)
W — Alex Blevins, 66-yard pass from Mitchell Irwin (Landon Perkins kick), 5:35, 2nd (14-7 P)
P — Donavan Carr, 34-yard pass from Drew Roe (Zach Roth kick), :35, 2nd (21-7 P)
P — Drew Roe, 7-yard run (kick blocked), 1:38, 4th (27-7 P)
P — Reade Pendleton, 20-yard interception return (Zach Roth kick), :53, 4th (34-7 P)
First downs 14 10
Scrimmage plays 48 54
Rushes-yards 22-88 37-112
Passing yards 189 169
Total yards 277 281
Cmp-Att-Int. 17-26-0 7-17-1
Fumbles-lost 0-0 5-4
Penalties-yards 1-6 3-25
Punts-Ave. 4-35.5 3-33.3
RUSHING —Portsmouth: Drew Roe 13-76 TD, Amare Johnson 8-6, Reade Pendleton 1-6; West: Ryan Sissel 18-98, Jeffery Bishop 6-11, Brandon Barfield 5-7, Ashton Klaiber 1-0, Mitchell Irwin 6-(-3), Team 1-(-1)
PASSING — Portsmouth: Drew Roe 17-26-0-189 2TD; West: Mitchell Irwin 7-17-1-169 TD
RECEIVING— Portsmouth: Reade Pendleton 5-39, Jayden Duncan 3-66, Donavan Carr 2-69 2TD, Dariyonne Bryant 2-10, Amare Johnson 2-4, Beau Hammond 3-1; West: Jeffery Bishop 3-38, Alex Blevins 1-66 TD, Jesse Dixon 2-53, Cole Tipton 1-12
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved