PORTSMOUTH — For the Portsmouth Trojans, and their recent rejuvenation of their football program which played their way into the state playoffs two and three years ago, their focus has continually been on the opponent immediately in front of them.
This week, and simply put, the Trojans have the Deer Park Wildcats in the proverbial headlights.
And, with a victory, the Trojans’ turnaround continues on —and would move them to 3-0 for the second consecutive 10-game scheduled season.
However, they’ll have to defeat a former PHS head coach in order to do so —and defensively face the rarely-employed but still highly-effective option-based offensive attack.
Indeed, as retro and even antiquated as the option may be, it will be an offense that the Trojans must assignment-wise execute against —not just this week but next week when the Trojans travel to Rock Hill, and open Ohio Valley Conference competition.
But, Deer Park is the focus front and center for Friday night —as the Wildcats from suburban Cincinnati invade Scioto County for Portsmouth’s final scheduled non-league bout.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. inside sparkling Trojan Coliseum, as Portsmouth plays Deer Park —and ANY Cincinnati Hills League club — for the first time in school history.
The Trojans’ turnaround from their 2020 2-7 coronavirus-impacted campaign starts, and ends, on the defensive side —as Portsmouth has allowed only 10 total points in its opening two tilts.
This was the same defensive unit which surrendered 66 and 49 points respectively last season in OVC losses at Coal Grove and Chesapeake — despite the offense amassing 63 and 38 in those same games.
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.
Following Saturday night’s 34-7 rout of West, in which the Trojans took full advantage of five Senator turnovers including book-ending defensive touchdowns, fourth-year PHS coach Bruce Kalb spoke about that night-and-day difference.
“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.”
In getting defensive, the Trojans have gotten after opposing ballcarriers.
Portsmouth plays in the predominantly run-oriented OVC — which includes the likes of Ironton, Rock Hill, Chesapeake, Coal Grove, and even the balanced Blue Devils of Gallia Academy.
But aside from Rock Hill, as head coach Mark Lutz has incorporated legendary and longtime Ironton head coach Bob Lutz’s “T-formation” offense, the Trojans aren’t likely to see another true triple-option base.
That means the quarterback, the fullback, and two halfbacks are all equal opportunists when it comes to running the football —and blocking for one another.
Although, Kalb said these Wildcats will bring an element of athleticism —similar to say what McClain runs.
It’s actually more of midline option, or even inside-outside veer option.
“We certainly have our work cut out for us this week. Deer Park will be athletic and will be able to match us athletically,” said the coach. “We’re going to have to play fundamentally sound defense again. Their offense isn’t anything overly exciting, but they are going to show patience and try to get the ball to their guys and make plays. We’ll see an older style of football, which you don’t see much anymore, but they have some athletes and they will take a shot or two downfield. They’ll spread you out and run multiple formations, so we’ll have to defend and make sure we get lined up.”
Calling that Wildcat offense is former PHS head coach Jason Sparks, who is the Deer Park offensive coordinator.
Sparks and Kalb keep in contact as part of their coaching fraternity, and the game got scheduled because both teams needed a week-three opponent.
The Wildcats, Kalb said, agreed to travel to Portsmouth this season —because they had six home games already.
Deer Park, with 60 players listed on its roster, is a Division VI program playing in Region 24 —which is the same region for Scioto Valley Conference squads Paint Valley, Adena and Huntington.
This season, the Wildcats are 1-1 —with a 16-13 season-opening loss against Cincinnati Purcell-Marian before a 28-8 triumph over Cincinnati Western Hills.
Western Hills is a Division I program in Ohio.
The Wildcats have made four all-time state playoff appearances —as the most recent season they played into the postseason was three years back.
“Their program is being turned around, and it reminds me of where we were at about seven or eight years ago,” said Kalb.
Defensively, Deer Park plays a 4-2-5 stack — a base set similar to what West and Valley both showed.
The Trojans scored 35 second-half points and used their numbers advantage against the Indians, as quarterback Drew Roe completed two first-half touchdown passes against the Senators — from 35 and 34 yards out and both to Donavan Carr.
Roe then engineered a 17-play, 99-yard, eight first-down, 10-minute and 18-second scoring drive against the Senators throughout their fourth quarter.
His final passing statistics from both games were similar —18-of-31 for 218 yards and three touchdowns against Valley, before throwing for 17-of-26 for 189 yards and the two TDs against West.
While Roe goes for more gaudy offensive numbers this week, look for the Trojans to continue to emphasize defense —both components of continuing their turnaround before OVC play.
“Our goal is to go 3-0. We would like to carry that momentum going in the league. You don’t want to take one on the chin going into the league. We’re going into a meat-grinder with the OVC and some big, physical and even athletic teams,” said Kalb. “We certainly want to be firing on all cylinders, at all costs, going into league play. So this is a huge and challenging game for us this week with Deer Park.”
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved