CHILLICOTHE —Now this was Portsmouth Trojan football as Bruce Kalb best recalled it.
That’s because what took place on Saturday night at Zane Trace took the Trojans and Kalb back down memory lane —two full decades in fact, when they last won an Ohio High School Athletic Association state playoff game.
That was clear back in 2002, when all of the current Trojans weren’t even born yet —and Portsmouth played West in the regional championship game.
“Nineteen years is a long time. Somewhere along the line, and it wasn’t any one person or one thing, but the program got off track. But this senior class has brought us back to where we belong,” said Kalb, the fourth-year PHS head coach and alumnus. “I hope to see a few more of these, whether it’s this year or in the future, the Portsmouth Trojans being in the postseason, and the Portsmouth Trojans coming away with a win.”
While Portsmouth has played in the eight-team-per-region state playoffs multiple times, it wasn’t until on Saturday night —and with the aid of the expanded playoff field to 16 teams per region —that the Trojans were winners.
But, no matter how, no matter where, and no matter when, winning a playoff game is indeed winning a playoff game.
And thanks to scoring 31 first-half points via five different means, and by forcing four Pioneer turnovers, ninth-seeded Portsmouth punched its ticket to the Division V Region 19 quarterfinals —by topping eighth-seeded Zane Trace 38-22 on the outskirts of Chillicothe, and in the two teams’ first-ever meeting.
Both clubs are 8-3, but the Trojans are the ones returning to Tanks Memorial Stadium in Ironton —and a rematch from two weeks ago against Region 19’s top seed, and the highly-touted Ohio Valley Conference champion Fighting Tigers.
Had Portsmouth defeated Ironton on Oct. 22, the Trojans would have hosted an opening-round bout —as this marks the first season since 1999 in which the OHSAA has expanded the state playoff field.
Thus, the Trojans took advantage of that ninth seed, got a favorable matchup against the Pioneers, and scored 31 first-half points — with only 87 first-half yards.
The Trojans trailed nary against Zane Trace, and jumped out to a 14-0 first-quarter lead on rushing (three yards) and receiving (12 yards) touchdowns by Reade Pendleton —plus a pair of Zach Roth extra points.
And although the Pioneers punched back to get within nine points (14-7, 17-14, 31-22) three times —a 30-second stretch late in the second quarter quickly made it 31-14 Portsmouth, after Zane Trace trimmed the deficit to 17-14.
The contest completely turned on back-to-back kickoffs —one in which sophomore Devon Lattimore broke at least a half-dozen tackles for a 79-yard score, and the other in which J.T. Williams simply stole the football from Zane Trace’s Joey Gay and returned it 34 yards to the house.
Honestly, it was two highlights you had to see to believe, but both demonstrated the Trojans’ dominance over the Pioneers in terms of winning the defense and special teams phases —despite being outgained by 87 total yards (287-200).
Forcing turnovers, and owning field position, will do that for you.
In addition, Roth made all five of his extra-point attempts —and Amare Johnson’s gigantic blocked field goal in which Beau Hammond had the scoop and near-score for 69 yards set the tone.
Finally, early in the fourth quarter, the Trojans turned the Pioneers over on a failed lateral attempt which resulted in a lost fumble — and two plays later a 35-yard touchdown connection from Drew Roe to Dariyonne Bryant made it 37-22 with 8:45 remaining.
Simply put, it was the Trojans finding ways with special teams early and offense late —while their defense against the bigger Pioneers did allow some yards, but only 22 points.
Zane Trace had been averaging 40 points per game, while allowing a mere 14.
Kalb was asked about amassing 31 first-half points with only 87 total yards —63 of which came on all but the final 2:21 of the second quarter.
“I would have told you you were crazy. But you know, our coaches made sure we were clicking in all three phases of the game,” said the coach. “Last year, we were very offensive-dominant, then our defense came alive this year, and as the year has progressed our special teams have stepped up huge for us. Made a lot of huge plays on special teams and defense tonight, benefited from a lot of short fields. When we capitalize off those, it’s usually a good night for us.”
It was indeed.
The Pioneers drove nine plays to the red zone from their own 38 in five minutes on the game’s opening drive, but Noah Fetters’ 37-yard field-goal attempt was cleanly blocked by Johnson —and beautifully scooped by Hammond, who mad-dashed his way all the way to the Pioneers’ 3-yard-line before being tackled.
On the ensuing snap, Pendleton ran a jet sweep to the left into the end zone —making it 7-0 with Roth’s first of five extra-point kicks.
Three plays later, the Pioneers fumbled at their own 35 —and this time, five plays and two minutes after that, Roe completed a pass to Pendleton in the left flat, for he took it in from a dozen yards out to make it 14-0 with 3:17 to play in the first quarter.
A full quarter later, the stunning two Trojans’ returns occurred —as Roth made a 28-yard field goal to make it 17-7, in between Ben Nichols’ two TD runs for the Pioneers.
Nichols’ second score followed Portsmouth’s only turnover —a lost Roe fumble at his own 31, and a play in which he re-aggravated a knee injury but never came out of the game.
As it turned out, the Trojans never needed Roe for their next two scores —and their 31-14 lead with 3:16 before halftime.
The sophomore Lattimore, who later intercepted Nichols with five-and-a-half minutes left, took the kickoff at his own 21 —and veered all the way to his left before cutting back to his right and close to the Trojans’ sideline.
The Pioneers couldn’t catch him, and had even much more difficultly dragging him down —to which they never did before Lattimore made it to paydirt.
But wait, there’s more.
The 24-14 lead lasted just 11 seconds, as Williams was spot on in the right place at the right time on the ensuing kickoff return — simply swiping the pigskin from Gay, and having the presence of mind to return it 34 yards for the touchdown.
Gay got knocked out of the game, and the Trojans took the wind out of the Pioneers’ sails —for the time being.
Zane Trace, on its second series of the third quarter, moved 55 yards in seven plays in two minutes and 26 seconds —as Blake Phillips threw a halfback option pass to Carter Hill in the back of the end zone on a 4th-and-2 call, with Carter Langley running in the two-point conversion run to trim the deficit to 31-22.
“We knew Zane Trace wasn’t going to give up. They are a well-coached, very tough, very disciplined, physical team. They battled and we had to dig deep,” said Kalb.
That they did, and the Pioneers aided the Trojans’ cause with their own mistakes, as on their next series a pass play on 3rd-and-4 from the PHS 42 turned into a 13-yard loss — before Drew Lane attempted to lateral the ball backwards.
The Trojans’ Brenden Truett recovered the loose ball, PHS was back in business at the Pioneer 35 —and Roe stepped up and delivered a dagger of a touchdown strike with Bryant, who made the reception at the 25 and raced to the end zone.
It was Portsmouth’s only second-half score as it punted three times, but its defense forced two turnovers on downs to bookend the half —sandwiched in between Lattimore’s interception of Nichols.
Roe completed 17-of-25 passes for 119 yards —with Bryant (55 yards) and Pendleton (26 yards) catching five passes apiece.
Hammond had 64 yards on nine rushes, as ZT’s Nichols —in his final Pioneer affair —completed 12-of-19 for 85 yards, while leading all rushers with 107 yards on 26 attempts.
The loss dropped the Pioneers to 2-9 all-time in the playoffs, as they were making their ninth all-time appearance —while the revived PHS program, playing in its 13th all-time postseason and fourth consecutive, gets a revenge opportunity at Ironton.
And, while that return trip was two weeks in the making, Saturday night’s triumph took two full Trojan decades —and one special senior class.
“I am ecstatic, but I am more excited for these kids,” said Kalb. “When I took over four years ago, we had a wonderful senior class that started the change of the culture of this program. These seniors were freshmen then. We saw these seniors take that mantle after it was passed to them and instill a culture that took us to tonight.”
* * *
Portsmouth 14 17 0 7 —38
Zane Trace 0 14 8 0 —22
P — Reade Pendleton, 3-yard run (Zach Roth kick), 6:40, 1st (7-0 P)
P — Reade Pendleton, 12-yard pass from Drew Roe (Zach Roth kick), 3:17, 1st (14-0 P)
ZT — Ben Nichols, 16-yard run (Noah Fetters kick), 10:59, 2nd (14-7 P)
P— Zach Roth, 28-yard field goal, 8:49, 2nd (17-7 P)
ZT — Ben Nichols, 1-yard run (Noah Fetters kick), 3:47, 2nd (17-14 P)
P — Devon Lattimore, 79-yard kickoff return (Zach Roth kick), 3:27, 2nd (24-14 P)
P — J.T. Williams, 34-yard fumble recovery return (Zach Roth kick), 3:16, 2nd (31-14 P)
ZT — Carter Hill, 2-yard pass from Blake Phillips (Carter Langley run), 4:49, 3rd (31-22 P)
P —Dariyonne Bryant, 35-yard pass from Drew Roe (Zach Roth kick), 8:45, 4th (38-22 P)
First downs 11 22
Scrimmage plays 41 67
Rushes-yards 16-81 47-200
Passing yards 119 87
Total yards 200 287
Cmp-Att-Int. 17-25-0 13-20-1
Fumbles-lost 1-1 3-3
Penalties-yards 4-38 5-30
Punts-Ave 3-25.7 1-52
RUSHING —Portsmouth: Beau Hammond 9-64, Reade Pendleton 3-12 TD, Amare Johnson 1-11, Drew Roe 3-(-6); Zane Trace: Ben Nichols 26-107 2TD, Daniel Barnhart 17-84, Blake Phillips 2-7, Carter Langley 1-3, Team 1-(-1)
PASSING —Portsmouth: Drew Roe 17-25-0-119 2TD; Zane Trace: Ben Nichols 12-19-1-85, Blake Phillips 1-1-0-2 TD
RECEIVING—Portsmouth: Dariyonne Bryant 5-55 TD, Reade Pendleton 5-26 TD, Amare Johnson 3-16, Jayden Duncan 3-16, Hayden Griffith 1-6; Zane Trace: Trey Edler 4-47, Carter Hill 4-18 TD, Nalin Robinson 3-35, Daniel Barnhart 1-0, Drew Lane 1-(-13)
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