August 29, 2013
PDT Sports Writer
When Valley coach Darren Crabtree scouted Portsmouth last Friday in its Jamboree Game against Piketon, it was as if he was watching a different team than the one his ball club faced to open the 2012 season.
“I didn’t like what I saw,” Crabtree said. “They’re very athletic, a ton of team speed, they play with a lot of different players, a lot of depth. It seems like with the new system they’re running offensively, they were very efficient with a lot of big plays and defensively, they seemed to do a great job of putting people in the right positions.”
Friday night, the Indians visit the Trojans for the first time in the second all-time meeting between the schools to pull the curtain back on the 2013 campaign. Valley comes into the contest riding a 20-game regular season winning streak and also coming off back-to-back regional finals appearances.
For the first time in decades, Portsmouth will be led onto the field by a new head coach as Jason Sparks makes his debut as the Trojans’ new boss. His task will be to turn around a 1-9 program from a year ago.
If there’s one thing Sparks is not worried about entering Friday, it’s the lack of enthusiasm from the school and the community.
“You can see it in the hallway, people are starting to get interested,” Sparks said. “…They know that 20-0 is coming to town. They know that and they want to see what’s going to happen.”
Sparks said the feeling of his first game week as head coach did not set in until Saturday morning when he popped in game tape on the Indians. What he took away from game tape as well as his observations when Valley scrimmaged Gallia Academy were reasons why the Indians were unbeaten in the last two full regular seasons.
“I think overall, they’re extremely well-coached and fundamentally sound,” Sparks said. “I think their offensive line is extremely disciplined and they’re hard nosed.
“They’ve got an unbelievable running back and the quarterback is pretty good on the move, very mobile and can make some things happen. They’ve got receivers that do exactly what they’re supposed to do.”
He echoed the sentiments about the Valley defense.
“They do their thing and they do it well,” Sparks said. “From player one to player 11, they’ve got guys across the board that can get it done.”
One word Crabtree used to describe his team was anxious as it will be two weeks since the Indians had faced another opponent in any fashion.
“I think the kids were tired of two-a-days and are ready to move on,” Crabtree said. “I think that they’re ready to get things started. Obviously going to Portsmouth on Friday night is a big game for us to open the season and I think they’re ready to play.”
During the hiatus from competition against different faces has been the improvement of communication, especially on the offensive line according to Crabtree.
“I think our timing on our blocking schemes and run plays has really developed here in the last week of practice,” Crabtree said.
The Indians will do something they have done for the third-straight season, open with a new quarterback under center as sophomore Bryan Rolfe gets the nod to replace Will Howard. Although it will be his first varsity action at the position, Rolfe gained what Crabtree deemed was valuable experience last year as the team’s punter and as the starting point guard on the basketball team.
“He’s played in some big ball games, although be it in basketball season and during the tournament,” Crabtree said. “Playing 13 weeks last year and getting the extra three-to-four weeks of practice even allowed him to make some extra big strides in his development.”
That being said, Crabtree will not expect Rolfe to take over every game. With a group of skilled starters returning such as Nate Arnett and Brice Jordan in the backfield, Ethan Clark-Holbrook and Zach Shope at receiver and Hayden Dunn at tight end, he will have plenty to work with offensively.
Plagued by injuries a year ago, the Trojans essentially return all of their skilled positional players, headlined by senior quarterback Brandon Wedebrook.
While Wedebrook captains the ship, Crabtree remembers the combination of Darion Robinson and Johnnie Charles at running back as well as Alex Dickerson at receiver who took turns poking some early holes in his defense. However, Crabtree feels the biggest improvement from what he witnessed personally was on the front lines.
“It’s a much-improved Portsmouth football team,” Crabtree said. “…They’re going to score some points. Their offense, the way they looked the other night against Piketon was very efficient and a lot of big-play capabilities.”
The two squads will also be playing for the Andy Hayden Memorial Trophy, created in memory of the player who played for both schools and was killed in a 2011 car accident.
Valley won the intial matchup, 31-24, last season.
Cody Leist can be reached at 353-3101, ext. 294, or firstname.lastname@example.org. For breaking sports news, follow Cody on Twitter @CodyLeist.