Portsmouth West couldn’t catch a break in their 2014 season opener against Newark Catholic. Their evening began when team buses arrived late to the Green Wave field after a two-and-a-half hour drive north, and things went downhill from there.
“We were just a little bit shell-shocked,” West head coach Ben Johnson said. “The experience was just a little bit overwhelming for us.”
The Senator offense struggled all night long and couldn’t manage a single point against Newark Catholic’s experienced defense. Though the West defense kept the Green Wave offense off the scoreboard after an opening-drive touchdown — and even came up with a clutch goal-line stand in the first half — the Senators couldn’t find the end zone in a 7-0 loss.
However, West’s offensive performance in week one proved to be a fluke. The Senators would go 7-2 over the remainder of the regular season with their offense averaging over 30 points a game. All the while, West’s defense continued overwhelm opponents, and the Senators were able to sneak into the playoffs.
Now that West is light-years ahead of where they were last year, Johnson expecting much more out of his team against the Green Wave in 2015.
“It’s a home game. The kids have a year under our system, nothing is new for them. We’ve played this team, there shouldn’t be any surprises,” Johnson said. “Now, we just have to go out and execute.”
After their opening-week win over West, Newark Catholic floundered for the remainder of the 2014 season. The Green Wave finished with a 5-5 record and missed out on a playoff berth for just the second time since the 2010 season. But this year, Newark Catholic hopes a new offense will get them back into the postseason.
The Green Wave will debut a new “Pistol” spread offense on Friday, quarterbacked by senior Kris Goodman. According to Johnson, West’s plan of attack will begin with containing Newark Catholic’s speedy signal-caller.
“We really have to focus on containing him and keeping him in the pocket,” Johnson said. “He’s really good when the play breaks down. On obvious passing situations, (when) everyone is covered, he’s able to scramble and get first downs.”
Luckily, the Senators will be able to welcome back linebacker Josh Davis to help stop Goodman and the Green Wave. Last season, Davis led the Senators with 111 tackles. The defense will also get a boost from linebacker Sam Kegley, and Wesley Bailey, all of whom earned significant playing time on defense last season.
But like last year, West’s offense will be the key in week one. With the graduation of quarterback Steven Irwin, running back Trevar Welch and wide receiver Michael Davis, the Senators lose almost eighty percent of the yards they gained last season.
Senior John Berry will earn his first start at quarterback for the Senators on Friday. While he earned valuable varsity experience last season as a defensive back, West is now counting on him to run the Senators’ pro-style offense.
“He’s been doing a good job. He’s a dynamic athlete, he brings a lot to the table,” Johnson said. “But it’s also a lot on his shoulders, he’s going to have to step up.”
Johnson’s keys to Friday’s game are no different than they are for every other game: take care of the ball on offense, play smart, assignment football on defense and make an impact on special teams. But against a Bill Franks-coached Newark Catholic team, that’s always easier said than done.
“One thing you always count on with Newark Catholic is that they’re going to be well-coached,” Johnson said. “They’re not going to beat themselves. They’re never just going to give you the game, you’re always going to have to out-play them and out-coach them.”
Kickoff for Friday’s game is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Portsmouth West High School.
Reach Alex Hider at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931 or on Twitter @PDTSportsWriter.