Chillicothe travels to Portsmouth Friday for what may be the last time the two schools will meet on the gridiron for a few years.
The two institutions have met for football since 1898 in a series weighted in Portsmouth’s favor (45-31-4). When the SEOAL expanded in 2006, it rekindled the rivalry. They swapped victories every other year with the Cavs winning the league series 4-3 including a 63-0 thumping in Week 10 of last season.
The series has become a casualty of scheduling as Chillicothe rejoined the SCOL this season and in a decision made two weeks ago, Portsmouth will leave for the OVC after next season. Friday’s game was made possible by a vacancy on both teams schedule (to be taken by Wilmington when the Hurricane joins the SCOL in 2014).
Cavs Coach Ron Hinton says “They’re dangerous” when describing the Trojans. “Look at their scores… they’re right there with everybody (and) they haven’t forgotten about last year… in their Region (of the OHSAA Computer Rankings) at 3-6, they’re not out of the playoff picture yet.”
So, in many eyes, there’s much on the line Friday night at Trojans Coliseum, namely pride but also playoff ramifications.
It’s been an up and down season for new coach Jason Sparks’ team of Trojans. After their 1-3 start, Portsmouth knocked off Ohio River rival Ironton but then lost three straight. Three weeks ago the Trojans were outscored 55-49 by Gallia Academy and then tripped up by Jackson 26-19. Last Friday they picked up a 26-12 victory at Warren.
“It has been kind of a rollercoaster” Sparks said Thursday. “But the one constant… we’ve gotten better every week.”
Sparks replaced longtime Trojans Coach Curt Clifford who retired after the 2012 season. Sparks says he was pleased to get the necessary team support for building the future of his Portsmouth program.
“We’ve got a solid group of seniors who have bought into being the first step of the foundation.” Sparks came to Portsmouth after posting three seasons at Southern Pines (N.C.) Pinecrest High School.
Containing Chillicothe’s team speed is among Sparks’ concerns for Friday. The Trojans need to be careful plugging up the inside of the Cavalier offense for fear of giving up the outside spaces where the Cavs’ speed can be lethal.
“Speed… and they’re very tough and physical on defense” said Sparks. “We’ve got to match the intensity… obviously we can’t make up the speed in a week.”
That speed is in the feet of Cavs running backs Markel Cain and Nate Rosenbauer who Sparks described as backs who “can break away at any time. If we don’t make the open field tackle, we may not be able to make the tackle.”
Sky Oliver took over at quarterback after an injury to Brandon Wedebrook about a month into the season. Sparks says he’s seen progression in Oliver’s play and Wedebrook is now able to play on both offense (as a receiver) and in the defensive backfield.
The Cavs QB spot had a similar twist when Ryan Mathis was held out last week in favor of Caleb Price. While Mathis heals his shoulder, Price managed to throw for more than 200 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
For Ron Hinton, it’s about getting to Week 11. He explains his team won season one (3-0 through non-conference start), made it through league play and hope to finish the second season 6-1 and get into the playoffs.
While for Chillicothe the playoff picture is about 93% clear (that they’ll make it), it may not be complete until Saturday night. Logan Elm’s 24-21 loss to Hamilton Township Thursday helps, but there are some big matchups beneath Chillicothe’s (3rd in Region 9 of Division III) that will have the Cavs on their seats without a win over Portsmouth.
Game night coverage begins at 7:05pm on News Radio WBEX (1490AM and 92.7FM) and on wbex.com via iheartradio.