The Warriors’ dream of an undefeated season is over.
With 26 seconds remaining in regulation and Portsmouth leading by two, kicker Mick Fewell nailed a 32-yard field goal to give the West Virginia Lightning the lead for good in a 23-21 win over the Portsmouth Warriors (6-1) in East Bank, West Virginia.
The Lightning (6-1) scored 16 unanswered points in the final 20 minutes of the game, erasing a 21-7 Warrior lead.
“Late in the game, we had some opportunities to put that game away. We didn’t take advantage of those opportunities and they did,” Warrior coach Jamie Rice said.
Early on in the game, the Warriors nickeled-and-dimed their way to three touchdowns in their first three possessions. Early in the first quarter, quarterback Justin Lunsford found receiver Michael Morton from 13 yards out to cap a 17-play 99-yard drive. The Warriors also scored on a 53-yard drive (capped by a five-yard touchdown run by Tony Murphy) and a 69-yard drive (capped by a 15-yard catch by Mike Dawkins) to take a two-touchdown lead early in the third quarter.
But the scoring drives came at a price. The Warrior offensive lineman began to tire from being on the field so long, and the long road trip meant that Portsmouth didn’t have the strong stash of reserve players it usually enjoys. With still a half of football left to play, many of the Warrior offensive players were already out of gas.
“We wore (the Lightning) down in the first game, but this week it kind of worked in reverse,” Rice said.
With the defense also beginning to tire, the Lightning went to work. They mounted a 60-yard drive in the third quarter and 77-yard drive in the fourth, both of which were capped off by short touchdown runs. Suddenly, the deficit was just two points.
With time running short, the Warriors had a few chances to put the game out of reach. However, they had a drive cut short in the fourth quarter due to procedural penalties. Later, Lunsford overthrew an open receiver that would have likely scored.
All in all, the Warriors out-gained the Lightning 337-185 on offense and won the turnover battle 2-1. They also kept the Lightning in check and didn’t allow a big-play touchdown. However, they couldn’t come up with the knockout punch when they needed it.
“We didn’t give up the deep ball, we didn’t give up any huge plays. If you would have told me that before the game…I would have told you we were winning that game,” Rice said.
Despite the crushing loss, the Warriors still hold the inside position in the race for home-field advantage in the Blue Collar Football League playoffs. Though the teams split their regular season series, Portsmouth holds the lead head-to-head point differential, meaning if both teams were to win out, the Warriors would be awarded home-field advantage. On May 9, the Warriors defeated the Lightning 41-35 at Spartan Stadium.
Rice fully expects to see the Lightning again this season, this time in the palyoffs.
“It’s always hard to beat a team three times. Now, we just have to beat them twice,” he said. “You can learn more from a loss than you ever could with a win. We’ll be better the next time we play them, that’s a guarantee.”
Reach Alex Hider at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931 or on Twitter @PDTSportsWriter