PORTSMOUTH — In mid-September, on a mid-week Wednesday, the Portsmouth Trojans took a risk —and scheduled an impromptu non-league game against undefeated Waverly.
While the Trojans did lose on the scoreboard 35-34 thanks to the talented and highly-touted Tigers converting a two-point conversion run in the final 45 seconds, Portsmouth passed every other eye test that week —and in what has been a solid season so far.
And, even though playing Waverly ran its risks despite everyone involved getting more than their money’s worth, the Trojans are banking on that experience with rewards this week —as 6-1 Portsmouth faces 5-1 Fairland for important positioning behind Ironton (6-1, 4-0 OVC) in the Ohio Valley Conference.
That’s correct, as it’s a colossal contest in terms of the OVC championship chase —not to mention a hefty state playoff points pickup for the victor.
The Trojans, with another massive regular-season finale at Ironton on the horizon, are 3-0 in the OVC, while the host Dragons —after losing at Ironton 20-14 in overtime in week three —are 2-1 in the league.
But simply put, Portsmouth plans to pass another of its examinations on Friday night —as another element besides possible inclement weather will be thrown into the mix, and that being the Trojans taking the field for a natural-grass game.
Kickoff inside Jim Mayo Memorial Stadium in Proctorville is set for 7 p.m.
The Trojans own an all-time series advantage of 5-2, having won in 1980 —and again in 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019 in their OVC seasons.
In fact, Portsmouth’s 20-12 triumph two years ago at the Dragons’ lair marked the lowest-combined points total in the entire series.
But probably, most likely, expect both teams to try and light up the scoreboard come this week.
Portsmouth probably prepared best for Fairland by tangling toe-to-toe with the host Tigers, as the Trojans’ OVC game against Gallia Academy that week was canceled —as was Waverly’s with Washington Court House in non-league play.
The two sides made Wednesday afternoon telephone calls and made that matchup happen, and then-underdog Portsmouth played more than well enough to win.
“The test is there ahead of us. We had the chance to take a week off a couple of weeks ago because the Gallia Academy game got canceled, but instead we picked up Waverly,” said PHS coach Bruce Kalb. “Having played them and already experienced a game like that, it’s going to help prepare us for the tough tests we have ahead, starting with Fairland Friday night.”
There are some differences, though, with the Dragons.
The game marks the first for this season with Portsmouth playing on natural grass, and with the bus trip to Memorial Field in Gallipolis getting nixed, that leaves the Trojans’ longest regular-season road trip being Proctorville —an estimated hour away.
“It’s a big test. It’s always hard to go and win at Fairland. Always a tough atmosphere for us. It’s our longest road trip to date, and we’re playing on the grass for the first time this year,” admitted Kalb. “The focus this week is on the little things in preparation, but also knowing we have an hour’s drive ahead of us before we get off the bus. That’s our Friday focus combined with practicing for Fairland this week, and coming out and executing in the game itself.”
The Trojans have wasted very few possessions this season, scoring 266 total points and at least three offensive touchdowns — part of five overall — in each game.
Portsmouth senior quarterback Drew Roe, after an over 2,500-yard and 29-touchdown season in 2020, has only expanded upon those numbers this year —completing 124 of his 184 attempts in seven games, for 1,645 yards and 21 touchdowns against only four interceptions.
He has also rushed 69 times for 386 yards, with 11 touchdowns.
But the spread-the-field formation Dragons offer almost a mirror image, with the exception of much more running the football than say passing.
J.D. Brumfield, through six games, has 472 yards on 78 carries —while sophomore Peyton Jackson has completed 33-of-58 passes for two yards shy of 500, with seven touchdowns and two picks.
Steeler Leep (five receptions and 153 yards) and Zander Schmidt (eight receptions and 136 yards) are the leading Dragon receivers.
Kalb and his coaching staff, thanks to Fairland playing West in that Saturday night season opener at Portsmouth’s Trojan Coliseum, got a first-hand look at the Dragons.
Of course, the Trojans have kept tabs on the Green and White since then.
“They have the ability to run the ball because they are big, strong and physical up front, and they are quick enough on the perimeter to throw the ball. They remind you of a lot of us,” said Kalb. “They are going to make you defend them sideline-to-sideline as well as from the point of attack to deep down the field.”
Last week, against winless Chesapeake, the Trojans utilized Roe’s short passing attack to do most of their damage —as they scored 44 first-half points, with the overwhelming majority of the starters substituted for beginning in the second quarter.
That likely won’t be the case this week, as Friday’s affair is expected to be a hard-fought and close encounter —and could quickly turn into a shootout.
Either way, the winner —besides its improved OVC standing —will hit a playoff points jackpot.
Both teams are fifth in their respective regions —Portsmouth (10.2204 computer points average) in Division V Region 19 and Fairland (10.1552 CPA) in Division VI Region 23.
With the expansion of the OHSAA state playoffs to 16 teams per region this year, and no bye weeks with that, the top eight squads secure first-round home games.
So no doubt, the Dragons will breathe fire at the Trojans, but it’s tests like these that often result in great rewards.
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