WEST PORTSMOUTH — Talk about meeting in the middle of the road, or actually, it’s right smack directly dab on The Reservation.
That’s correct, as Saturday night’s Southern Ohio Conference Division II tilt — and a key one at that —takes place at Valley High School, as the 3-2 Minford Falcons face the 3-3 West Senators.
And, while West will be the home team — as it is technically its “home” game — Valley’s “Reservation” is actually this week’s West’s “Rock”.
Either way, though, it’s an important contest in a pair of chases — as both units are already 0-1 in the SOC II, and almost in the middle of the Division V Region 19 computer points list.
West is 10th (5.8588 computer points average) and Minford (5.6545 CPA) is 11th, but the winner will surely move up in those Region 19 rankings —and keep its SOC II championship aspirations alive with some help.
Kickoff on Saturday night at Valley High School is set for 7 p.m. — as the Falcons have captured the past two meetings, and by almost identical 33-14 (2019) and 35-14 (2020) counts.
The matchup marks also the Senators’ seventh game away from the under-construction “Rock” —which is getting an artificial turf surface installed, and is unlikely to host any games this season.
That has meant the Senators being true road warriors, especially with definite road shows in the last four weeks —with wins at Adena, Wellston and Columbus KIPP before battling defending SOC II champion Waverly for three full quarters.
In fact, West was tied at 28-28 with the undefeated and highly-touted Tigers only 53 seconds into the fourth period, until Waverly went off for the final 19 points.
“We were right there with Waverly, but just a few fourth-quarter plays switched momentum, and they took advantage of it,” said first-year West head coach Todd Gilliland. “But all in all, we feel like we’re improving every week and taking some big steps in our program. We’ve been able to start spreading the ball around a little bit more. Each week, we’ve had at least six or seven guys catch a pass and two or three different guys running the ball. We’re becoming more diverse offensively, and we feel like we’ve played good defense all year. Even against Waverly, minus a few plays, we held them down from what they normally do in a lot of areas.”
The Senators’ season opener, a 28-27 heartbreaker against Fairland, took place at Portsmouth’s Trojan Coliseum —while their following week’s bout against Portsmouth took place at Northwest.
This week, with Valley as the Senators’ site, it’s actually closer to the Falcons’ Nest —as Minford is a simple short drive down Lucasville-Minford Road.
But in an interview with Gilliland on Thursday, he said his Senators — although not ideal — are used to being “road warriors” by now.
He referenced the famed 1988 classic movie Hoosiers, and that iconic scene of the fictional Hickory Huskers inside Indianapolis’ real-life Hinkle Fieldhouse — of course measuring the distance from the free-throw line to the basket, and from the rim to the floor.
“We’re taking a bus everywhere, but our kids have gotten used to it by now. We’ve talked about it all year, and the biggest message we’ve tried to get to them is that we can only worry about what we can control. We can’t control right now whether our field is playable or not. What we can control is when the whistle blows, the field is the same distance long and wide as any place that you’re playing at. All those other distractions go away and you have to focus on the task at hand, which is playing football and executing your job and role with the team,” said Gilliland. “It is disappointing to the kids and for everyone right now that we haven’t been able to play on our own field, but at the same time, we’re blessed just to be able to play. We’re running with the idea each week that we can control what we’re able to control, and that’s preparing for a football game and playing it, no matter where it’s at.”
And, against whomever — and this week it’s the Falcons.
The Falcons fell to undefeated Piketon in their opener, then bounced back for three consecutive victories over Chesapeake, Wellston and East Clinton — with a canceled game at Washington Court House in between.
Last week, the Falcons fell to Wheelersburg 24-20 — as the Pirates scored first off a Minford first-quarter turnover, got 10 points in a span of three-and-a-half minutes in the game’s middle, and then put together a 17-play, 86-yard, six-minute fourth-quarter scoring drive to win it with 21 seconds to go.
Prior to that series, the Falcons —leading 20-17 and driving near midfield themselves — had a bad or mishandled snap, which resulted in a 13-yard loss and subsequent punt.
Minford and West prefer to run the football and control time of possession, so look for both to keep their offenses on the field —and to avoid those turnovers and penalties putting them behind the chains.
Jeffery Pica is the featured back for the Falcons, while junior Ryan Sissel sees the bulk of the carries for the Senators.
Both quarterbacks are also capable throwers and numbers producers — junior Mitchell Irwin of West and senior Devin Parker for Minford.
“We’re impressed with the way they (Falcons) run the football, and they’ve done a really nice job of being physical and getting the ball to Pica, who does a good job of running downhill and behind his pads and being tough to tackle. Then (Devin) Parker is a nice dual threat. They throw when they want to throw, and that puts you in a bind defensively. And you have to account for his ability to run, which makes it a lot tougher. He is a big and strong runner that is also hard to tackle,” said Gilliland. “And the last couple of weeks, their line has played really well. They have some big physical guys.”
“I’m sure their kids are going to be very similar to our kids. We run similar offenses, similar styles and formations, we both like to run the football, and we have similar numbers of kids too,” said Minford coach Jesse Ruby. “This game could come down to some injuries or turnovers or penalties or mistakes or things of that nature.”
Gilliland agreed, and discussed his Senators being able to complete sustained possessions — with points.
“We feel like we’re pretty equal in most if not all areas, so the team that is able to execute its gameplan and take care of the ball, that’s going to be magnified this week,” he said. “Make the other team earn what they get, not give them short fields on turnovers or silly penalties to extend drives. You have to play clean football. When you give teams like Minford extra opportunities with the ball, they start limiting your touches with the way they run the ball so well. And we have to finish drives. That’s a big thing. We can keep the ball for 10 minutes, but if we don’t score, then that time of possession doesn’t amount to what we need it to.”
What else the Falcons and Senators need is a loss by both Wheelersburg AND Waverly, which will square off next week —and were heavy favorites for wins over Oak Hill and Valley respectively on Friday.
But, like both coaches concurred, meeting in the middle against each other on Saturday night —and winning at The Reservation is first and foremost.
“I know Coach (Todd) Gilliland and his staff will have their kids ready to get after it. Every week in SOC II play, you better show up or you’re going to take a butt-kicking,” said Ruby. “Hopefully, our guys will bounce back from this (loss to Wheelersburg), and come back and play the way we know we can.”
“It’s a big game for us, both in league standings and for playoff points implications,” said Gilliland. “We’re always still battling for the conference championship, and we’re always controlling our own destiny as much as we can. Minford will be a challenge for us, but a win will do a lot of good.”
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