If you watch sports, you’ve probably heard the adage that football is “a game of inches.”
Any football fan knows that cliché is certainly true, and if you were in attendance at Friday night’s Portsmouth-Ironton game you witnessed that phrase firsthand.
With four seconds remaining, the Tigers had one last gasp inside the Portsmouth 10 yard line to try and tie the affair with the Trojans. Ironton threw a pass right at the left pylon of the goal line, but the ball was jarred free to give Portsmouth a 42-35 victory on the final play of the contest.
The Tigers were mere inches away from a chance to even the score, but fell just short. The saying holds true for another day, maybe football is just a game of inches after all.
On that last play, Ironton quarterback Gage Salyers rolled out to his left to try and find receiver Alex Cox just outside the corner of the end zone. Cox was met as soon as his hands touched the ball by Portsmouth’s Ty Pendleton and Daniel Jordan, and the tandem knocked the ball to the turf at Tanks Memorial Stadium.
“We went to a zone look, and they threw the deep out,” Portsmouth head coach Aaron Duncan said. “From my vantage point, it looked like they got down inside the one and Ty Pendleton and [Daniel Jordan] rallied up and forced him out of bounds. It’s a game of inches, and you play it until the final whistle.”
Pendleton was nearly speechless after the game concluded, but mustered up a summary of what happened through his eyes.
“It was pretty nerve wracking,” Pendleton said. “I knew I had to make the tackle, I just did what I had to do.”
“It all just happened in a blur. I don’t even know what to say, I’m at a loss for words. That was a good game.”
What followed was pure pandemonium, as the Trojans team celebrated on the field. For the Portsmouth senior class, it was their first win over Ironton in four tries.
Duncan will miss all 14 of those seniors, but is happy they were able to defeat the rival Tigers in their final game as Trojans.
“They mean the world to me, they’re like my kids,” Duncan said. “Whenever I took this job, I inherited a team that wasn’t used to winning, and had some adversity and some down times with the football program.”
“The senior group was the core that stuck together, and the glue for this program. They did things the right way: they lifted weights, they conditioned, they showed up to practice on time, they practiced hard. They made it easy for me as a newer, younger coach coming in to be able to cut my teeth with them at the helm.”
One of those seniors, quarterback Isaac Kelly, played a big part in the offensive fireworks for Portsmouth.
Kelly finished with three total touchdowns, all scored in the first quarter of play.
“I’m just so proud of my guys,” Kelly told the Daily Times. “We fought to the very end, we had a little adversity there in the second half and we handled it well, better than we have all year.”
“When I came in here, I had no idea I was going to get to have 45 other brothers. I figured it would just be a team that wins, and it’s much more than that. I’m proud to be a Trojan, I really am.”
Kelly finished the game 12 for 16 passing with 140 yards through the air and a passing touchdown, and also scored twice on the ground.
The signal caller for the Trojans started the scoring on the opening possession for Portsmouth with a 36 yard touchdown pass to Parker Johnson. Johnson was wide open on a play action, and broke several tackles on his way to scoring.
An Ironton fumble on their first play from scrimmage gave the Trojans the football at the Ironton 29, and Kelly capped off that drive with a three yard touchdown trot to take a 14-0 lead just minutes into the game.
When the Tigers took over on their second drive, they moved backwards on their way to a three and out. Portsmouth took over after the punt at their own 45 this time, and continued to drive down the field with relative ease.
This time, Kelly scored from a yard out on a quarterback sneak. With 1:51 left in the first quarter, the Trojans looked to be well in control up 21-0.
Back on offense, Ironton continued in the wrong direction again. A Deante Parker sack set up another three and out for the offense of the Tigers, who were looking for answers.
Portsmouth had prime field position yet again on their fourth drive, starting at the Ironton 35 this time. Inside the five yard line of Tigers territory, Kelly tried to bust through again on a quarterback sneak, but fumbled the snap. Fortunately, Talyn Parker was there to scoop it up and score, and now the Trojans were on top 28-0 with 9:32 still to play before halftime.
Back on the field for the fourth time on offense, Ironton was just hoping to generate some positive yards. Switching offensive styles from the spread to the wing-T to try and run off some time, the Tigers stumbled upon something that worked for them.
Plays from the wing-T helped aid Ironton’s struggling offense, as the Tigers picked up their first first down of the game with eight minutes to play in the second quarter.
Ironton was able to continue their success on that drive, scoring on a three yard Cameron Deer run to get on the scoreboard.
The Tigers were able to shut Portsmouth down on their fifth drive of the game for the first time of the night before halftime, and headed into the break facing a 28-7 hole.
Back on the field on offense, Ironton stuck with the wing-T. Faced with a 3rd down and 3 from the Portsmouth 48, the Tigers tossed the ball to Garrett Carrico, who rushed for 30 yards to give Ironton a first down.
Several plays later, now faced with a 4th down and 14, Salyers passed to Reid Carrico for a 21 yard touchdown to cut the deficit to two scores.
Utilizing some trickery on special teams, Ironton was able to recover an onside kick and now were right back in the thick of things.
“They found something that worked for them, and they were able to get some scores,” Duncan said. “We had a couple miscues in the special teams and let them get a chance to continue in their T. Fortunately, the part about the T is it does kill some time and they didn’t end up with a lot of time at the end of the game.”
Looking to make a comeback now, Ironton was back in the action when Garrett Carrico scored from a yard out to change the score to 28-21 with 3:05 left in the third quarter.
The Tigers tried another onside kick, but this time Logan Carter was there to make the catch. Starting at their own 45, Portsmouth was on offense for the first time after nearly nine minutes of play in the second half.
The Trojans found pay dirt on the series again, as Talyn Parker made a nice cut from two yards out to put Portsmouth back up by two scores, 35-21.
With a two possession lead, the Trojans looked to be in control. Ironton wasn’t content with that, though.
A five yard Salyers keeper after the quarterback scooped up his bobbled snap and scored made the score 35-28 after the extra point with 8:05 to play.
Still, Portsmouth was in front and had a chance to ice the clock.
The Trojans had all sorts of success on offense throughout the game, but took over at their own 19 yard line this time and were unable to create anything noteworthy. Portsmouth was forced to punt with six minutes remaining, and the Trojans hardly took any time off the clock.
Garrett Carrico took back a solid return to the Portsmouth 40, and a personal foul after the play put the ball at the Trojans’ 27 yard line. Salyers scored from two yards out later in the drive, and the PAT tied the score at 35 with 4:15 to play.
On another special teams gaffe, Talyn Parker bobbled the ball and was brought down at the Portsmouth 11 yard line on the ensuing kickoff. The Trojans would have a long ways to go to reclaim the lead, and just a few minutes to do it.
Portsmouth worked the clock with several runs, and was able to gain yards on the ground. Those runs from the Trojans gave Portsmouth a play action shot, and Kelly found Johnson again on the same play to push the ball to the Ironton 45.
The Trojans took a timeout to talk things over, and it paid off.
Kelly handed the ball to Talyn Parker after that timeout, and the shifty sophomore found a running lane down the right sideline for a 45 yard touchdown with exactly a minute remaining. The Joel Bowling extra point made the score 42-35.
“Coach called red power for Talyn, and as soon as I handed it off I saw the hole open up,” Kelly said. “I knew it was over, I knew they weren’t going to get a touchdown because our defense has worked so hard. That’s what we’ve worked for all season.”
Parker put his foot on the pedal, and outran the Ironton defenders on his way to an incredible touchdown run.
“The hole just opened up, and I just went as fast as I could,” Talyn said about his touchdown run. “It felt amazing, it really did.”
“It feels amazing. I put everything into it, and it’s just a good feeling.”
The run was aided by some big blocks up front from the Portsmouth offensive line.
“I told Talyn we’re going to run it back to the tight end side, I sent DJ [Pearsall] over there and told Jadan [Josey] you’re pulling,” Duncan said. “Jadan was gassed, and I said, “Jadan, you got to get me one block on power,” and he said, “I got you, coach.” DJ kicked out, Jadan led through, and Talyn did the rest with his legs.”
“Talyn is a special player. He’s a 15 year old boy out there, and he looks like a man.”
Then, the Trojans were able to make a defensive stand to secure the victory as the scoreboard ran out of time. Portsmouth pulled out the win on the final play, and finished the season 5-5 with a win over their nemesis Ironton.
“That’s something that few Portsmouth Trojans can say that they ended up finishing their career with a win at Tanks Stadium,” Duncan said.
Although the season may not have finished like the Trojans envisioned it at the start of the year, Duncan will take the progress that Portsmouth made both on and off the field.
“The good Lord has blessed us and shined down on this program,” Duncan said. “These young men, I know a lot of them are going to be successful in life after high school. At the end of the day, a lot of times people get caught up in wins and losses, but I do this job because I want to try to make these guys better men and better citizens.”
Reach Benjamin Spicer at (502)264-7318 on Twitter @BSpicerPDT or at Facebook.com/ReporterBenSpicer