It’s not difficult to get the Kentucky Warriors (6-1) and the Southern Ohio Spartans (5-3, 4-3 NFFL) excited to play each other.
“You don’t have to give pregame speeches in a game like this,” said Warrior head coach Jamie Rice.
The Portsmouth-area rivals will face off for the second time this season on Saturday at Spartan Stadium. Earlier this year, in the season opener, the Warriors came away with a 34-9 victory over the Spartans in New Boston Stadium.
In that game, the Warriors shut down the Spartan offense, allowing just 128 yards of total offense while forcing two turnovers. Dro’Ore Taylor lead the way for Kentucky, recording eight tackles and a quarterback hurry. Snook Martin recorded the first of his two interceptions this season, and Jon Hairston set the tone with an early pick six.
Hoping to get a similar performance out of its defense this Saturday, the Warriors will get two defensive captains back from the disabled list. Defensive lineman Steve Lee and safety Nate Fannin both missed last weekend’s game against the Northwest Dukes with hamstring pulls.
“Not only are those two great football players, they’re leaders on the defense,” Rice said.
Offensively, the Warriors look much different than they did in the Week One matchup. Jonathon Schweickart has taken control of the starting quarterback position, whereas he split time with Justin Lunsford in Week One.
“Schweickart has gotten so much better from that first game to where we are now,” Rice said. “Schweickart’s legs, they’re kind of an x-factor. It’s tough to defend a dual-threat quarterback.”
The Warriors also saw limited production from running back Jontez Jones in week one. Jones, Kentucky’s leading rusher, touched the ball just six times in his last matchup with the Spartans and picked up only 35 yards. Since then, he’s averaged 6.5 yards a carry and has scored seven touchdowns on the season.
“You let him get a seam, and he can take it all the way,” Rice said. “That’s big.”
The Warriors also have gotten consistent production from former Spartan running back Luke Brown. The Northwest High School graduate had five carries for 36 yards in his first game against his former team.
“It was kind of weird, at first,” Brown said about playing his former team. “But after the first quarter, I realized that they were an opponent. I’m glad I’m playing for the Warriors now and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Last week, Brown had a breakout game in relief on an injured Jones, as he recorded 158 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries. A big game against his former team couldn’t come at a better time.
I’ve been excited since (the Dukes) game ended, and to be honest with you, this is probably the biggest game of the year for me,” he said. “The first game, I didn’t really get to prove myself. I want to show them what I can do.”
On the other hand, the Spartans have vastly improved since their week one tilt with Kentucky. They’re coming off a 22-20 win over the River City Bulldogs, their third win in a row. On offense, they feature a number of athletes that will be giving the defense fits, including former Warrior Duke Edwards. The former Portsmouth High School standout has been known to play quarterback, wide receiver and on defense.
“Phenomenal athlete,” Rice said. “Wherever he is on the field, he’s a guy that can make plays.”
Spartan wide receiver Justin Nelson can also make the defense pay with blazing speed.
“That guy is a difference maker,” Rice said. “You want to talk about a guy that gets a crease and can take it all the way, that’s the guy.”
Finally, on defense, the Spartans feature a solid linebacking crew, lead by former Chillicothe Cavalier Shay Netter.
“He’s a guy that you really need to know where he’s at,” Rice said. “He defintiely draws a little attention, he’s a good football player.”
With both teams’ stadiums just minutes away from each other, Spartan Stadium will most likely feature a good mix of both Spartan and Warrior fans. The Battle for Portsmouth is sure to bring an electric mood to Southern Ohio.
“I think it’ll be a good crowd,” Rice said. “Our fans will get loud, their fans will get loud. It’ll definitely be the best atmosphere of the year, hands down.”
Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Alex Hider can be reached at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1931 or on Twitter @PDTSportsWriter