After a heartbreaking, last-second loss to the West Virginia Lightning last Saturday, the suddenly mortal Portsmouth Warriors find themselves at a crossroads. With the playoffs rapidly approaching, the Warriors have just three weeks to re-find their mojo.
“We were a little overconfident at times this year,” Warriors head coach Jamie Rice said. “It was kind of a reality check for them.”
In semi-pro football, it’s not uncommon that a single loss can sour a team’s chemistry and ruin a season. However, the Warriors (6-1) have been through it before.
Last season, the undefeated Warriors hosted the Cincinnati Hawks in a mid-season battle for first place. Though the Hawks ran away with a dominant 42-10 victory, it sparked an impressive Warrior run all the way to the Northern Frontier Football League championship game.
Rice feels his team can match that run this season. The first step: Get on track against a scrappy Carter County Wildcats team on Saturday.
Last season, the Wildcats limped to a 1-9 finish in their inaugural season, including two blowout losses at the hands of the Warriors. But this season, Carter County has bounced back with a 4-3 league record.
“They’ve added some players. It looks like they were able to keep a lot of their good players last year and then add a few more,” Rice said. “That really helps them out.”
Many of the Wildcats new additions come on the edge, where they’ve found a number of small, quick receivers that can take the top off a defense. With a big arm at quarterback, Rice says that his defensive backfield must remain disciplined and alert.
Carter County has also found depth on the defensive side of the ball, including former Warrior Andrew Nelson. After playing linebacker in Portsmouth last season, he joined the Wildcats in the preseason looking for more playing time.
“Really good guy, a really good hitter,” Rice said. “He adds a lot to them defensively.”
However, the Wildcats still remain weak on the offensive line, a key thar Warrior defensive coordinator Brian Wroten is sure to exploit.
Though Portsmouth will have to face Wildcats’ aggressive defense on the road, they’ll still have most of their roster with which to work. Carter County is just under an hour drive from Portsmouth, and is already much closer for a number of Warriors’ players that live in Kentucky. Offensive lineman Jeremy Maxie and linebacker Ant McDaniel will be the Warriors’ only two notable absences, holes that Portsmouth’s deep roster can easily fill.
It may have ended their dream of a perfect season, but Rice feels the loss to the Lightning could prove to be the Spark the Warriors need.
“We’re going to be better from it. I know we are,” he said.
Reach Alex Hider at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931 or on Twitter @PDTSportsWriter