PDT Sports Editor
At the beginning of each year, every team has playoff aspirations and as the weeks dwindle away, those aspirations become a distant memory for most squads.
The Portsmouth Trojans enter the final week of the regular season with a 3-6 record, which still gives them a fighting chance to secure a spot in the Division V, Region 17 playoffs.
The first task Friday will be knocking off an 8-1 Chillicothe team that blanked Lees Creek East Clinton last week and gave coach Ron Hinton his 300th career coaching victory, making him the 14th coach in Ohio high school football history to reach the feat. The Cavaliers are ranked ninth in the latest Associated Press Division III poll.
“It’s going to be a really good test,” Portsmouth coach Jason Sparks said. “They are an awesome team, no question about it. There’s a lot riding on the line as far as playoffs and things like that.”
The Ironton Fighting Tigers currently occupy the eighth and final playoff spot, with the Trojans sitting in 13th spot heading into the final week.
“This is our first playoff game,” Sparks said. “If we don’t win, we’re done.
“If we do win, we’ve got a chance to play next week. So, this is round one of the playoffs for us.”
Portsmouth recorded its third win of the season a week ago with a 26-12 road victory at Warren.
“Our kids played really hard, really well,” Sparks said. “That was the best defensive performance as far as total execution.”
With Chillicothe coming to town, Sparks knows his team is in for a different kind of fight.
“They match us pretty athletically,” Sparks said. “They can match up with us, which is not something we have seen.
“… They’ve got a ton of speed and they’ve got two linebackers who are really aggressive and good. They have two running backs that can flat out fly. That is something we have to contain.”
Sky Oliver will be making in sixth-consecutive start at quarterback after replacing injured starter Brandon Wedebrook, who hurt his lower back in Week 4 home loss to Minford.
“(Oliver’s) done some really good things for us as far as throwing,” Sparks said. “He’s progressed really well. He’s progressed well and he’s been able to progress because the people around him have gotten better.”
Oliver isn’t the only player flourishing in his new role. Since returning to the field, Wedebrook has become the utility man for the Trojans.
“Brandon has jumped into his role feet first,” Sparks said. “He just likes to be on the field and knows he can make plays.”
Wedebrook scored three touchdowns for Portsmouth a week ago.
“It’s not a shocker to us as coaches or to our team,” Sparks said. “We knew when he came back, wherever he lined up, he was going to be good. That’s what kind of kid he is and what kind of player he is.”
Sparks acknowledged his team’s need for consistency but he likes the direction they are headed.
“It’s obvious on the filled and when you see the tape, we’ve gotten better every week at some different aspect,” Sparks said. “It’s just a matter of putting it all together.”
No unit has come further from earlier in the season than the defense. After allowing back-to-back games of 50-plus points, the Trojan defense has improved their play over the last two contest, allowing 26 points in a loss at Jackson before holding the Warriors to 12 points.
“I hope (the defensive momentum) carries over into the game,” Sparks said. “It has in practice this week.”
Sparks knows the keys to the game will revolve around execution.
“Pass protection, we’ve got to protect our quarterback,” Sparks said. “We’ve got to have a solid run defense, which is all up front with reading keys. And open field tackling, we have to make one-on-one tackles in the open field.”
Chris Slone can be reached at 353-3101, ext 298, or firstname.lastname@example.org. For breaking sports news, follow Chris on Twitter @crslone.