The start of the 2014 season kicks off in Lucasville as the Portsmouth Trojans will attempt to accomplish a feat that hasn’t been witnessed in three years —place a “one” in the loss column in a regular-season contest against the Valley Indians.
Valley is 30-0 over the last three years against regular-season foes. For Portsmouth, who finished with a 3-7 record last year, it’s an opportunity to make an early statement about their 2014 intentions.
Portsmouth coach Jason Sparks knows what’s at stake for his squad Thursday night.
“It a chance to dethrone the king of the area so to speak,” Sparks said, “That’s something that we’ve talked a little bit about. They’re 30-0 in the past three years. We’ve got to show up and play.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Valley coach Darren Crabtree isn’t concerned with his team’s streak, his attention is directed to the Indians’ opponent.
“I know people don’t believe this but we haven’t talked about the 30-game win streak all summer, or during our two or three weeks here during practice,” Crabtree said. “We are focused on Portsmouth … “
The Trojans are perceived to have the speed advantage over Valley, which has Crabtree more concerned than his squad’s past accomplishments.
The Indians have had the difficult challenge of trying to emulate the speed the Trojans’ possess in practice. Players like Darrion Robinson, Darray Richardson, Austin Hollins, Sky Oliver and Alex Dickerson have a different gear that can’t be simulated during a few practice sessions and film study.
“They probably have the faster team but we have to work with what we have, take good angles and prepare the best we can,” Crabtree said.
Although Portsmouth is deemed to have the speed advantage, Sparks was quick to note that Valley shouldn’t be underestimated in that department.
“They’ve got Alex Loop at Linebacker who’s fast and (quarterback) Brian Rolfe is fast,” Sparks said. “We’ve just got to pick our spots and execute plays.”
Offensively, this game will feature two quarterbacks with similar paths to stardom. Trojans’ signal caller Sky Oliver is entering his second season at the helm of Portsmouth’s offense. After a stellar season, expectations are high for Oliver’s second go around.
For Indians’ junior quarterback Rolfe, he will be looking to build upon a successful 2013 campaign and Crabtree is looking to give his heralded leader more responsibility in season two.
“We kept things pretty close to the vest with him,” Crabtree said. “We didn’t want to put him in situations he wasn’t ready for. Now, after starting 12 games last year and two playoff games, we really feel like he’s matured and is ready to take on some more of those responsibility.”
With Valley only returning one offensive lineman, Rolfe will have a major impact on the Indians’ chances to keep their streak alive.
“We figure they will be very aggressive with blitzes,” Crabtree said.
Crabtree knows there will be many factors against his squad despite Valley having home-field advantage and being considered the favorite due to past performances.
For the Indians to be successful, they will have to put aside the distractions and their emotions. If they can reach halftime and still be in a strong position, Crabtree feels like his team will be successful.
“The main thing for us is to compete and make sure we keep ourselves in the ballgame … ,” Crabtree said. “A big key for us is to get through the first wave of emotions of playing at home and playing a team that is a bit faster than us, not to give up big plays, so we don’t put ourselves in a huge hole at halftime … “
Valley needs to limit big plays, covert it’s opportunities into points and win the special teams battle, but Crabtree noted those keys are going to be more difficult this year.
“There an improved football team from what they were last year,” Crabtree said. “We are going to have our hands full.”
For Portsmouth to find success in Lucasville, the Trojans will have to play a complete game, something they failed to do a season ago.
“Last year, we played really well in the first half and not very well in the second half,” Sparks said. “We are going to have to play an entire four quarters to come away with the victory.”
Sparks also noted his squad will have to play fundamentally sound, tackle well and defensively, get off the field on third downs.
This game is going to come down to opportunities, which team can limit the mistakes while forcing the critical error by their opponent.
Chris Slone can be reached at 353-3101, ext 1930, or on Twitter @crslone.