Trojans, Dragons meet in crucial contest
By PAUL BOGGS
Photo’s by Kent Sanborn
For Fairland football coach Melvin Cunningham, he had a remarkable comparison – and actually an ultimate compliment – for Portsmouth standout running back Talyn Parker.
Head Coach Melvin Cunningham
- Current Team
Cunningham said he had experienced a sleepless night or two trying to gameplan for Parker, but perhaps he will rest comfortably come Saturday morning – should his Fairland Dragons do the job and put Parker and the Trojans under wraps.
However, as most other OVC teams have already proven, that’s much easier said than done.
In a key Ohio Valley Conference clash, the Dragons host the Trojans on Friday night – with kickoff set for 7 p.m.
As the 6-1 Trojans invade 4-3 Fairland, the Dragons do realize that this is their last stand – as far as possibly winning a share of the OVC championship, and more likely landing a Division V, Region 19 playoff spot.
Fairland (6.2374 computer points average) is 10th in the latest release of the Ohio High School Athletic Association computer ratings – and needs to win out in order to have a realistic opportunity at making the postseason for the second year in a row.
The Dragons are 2-2 in the OVC while the Trojans are 3-1, as both teams need two losses by defending champion Gallia Academy and/or Ironton – which play each other next week.
As for its playoff possibilities, Portsmouth precariously sits inside the top eight of Region 19 at seventh (9.3143), and is the lowest-ranked of any of the five 6-1 clubs.
The top eight teams in each region qualify for the playoffs – with the top four squads earning first-round home bouts.
Cunningham said simply, that with his Dragons at 4-3, every game from here on out is treated as a playoff tilt.
“When you are 4-3, and in the region we are in, every game is basically a playoff game. We have to win out and there is no room for error in that region,” he said.
The Dragons have an opportunity at climbing that ladder this week, but they will have to at least limit Parker, who officially hit the 100-carry AND went over the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season in last week’s win over Chesapeake (34-20).
Against Chesapeake, Parker put up 288 yards and three scores on 17 carries, as he now has 85 yards over 1,000 for the season – and 14 yards over 5,900 for his career.
The Dragons do get an advantage of playing Portsmouth and Parker on natural grass – and not on the friendly and fast FieldTurf confines of Trojan Coliseum.
Still, the gameplan for Parker is the same, Cunningham claimed.
“You are not going to completely stop Talyn. He is too good of an athlete and has too much speed. But we do have to slow him down and control him, and you do that by not allowing all of his big plays, his splash plays,” he said. “When you get a hand on him, you have keep a hand on him and make the tackle. You have to do a great job of getting guys to him and getting him on the ground. He can completely change the outcome and complexion of the game on one carry. We can’t allow him to do to us what he has done to everybody else, which is score on 40, 50 or 60-yard runs.”
For Kalb, it’s a familiar refrain that he recognizes.
“With Drew Roe’s ability to get the ball out to those guys, and now the defense has to know where they are and cover them, that opens up even more lanes for Talyn to run in. It becomes pick your poison,” said Kalb. “Do you stack the box and stop Talyn Parker, or do you widen your defense out and allow Talyn the chance to do what he does best?”
But Kalb cautioned that the Dragons do have weapons of their own, including senior wide receiver Reilly Sowards, who returned last week against South Point from a broken collarbone suffered in Fairland’s first preseason scrimmage.
He caught a touchdown pass for 50 yards early in the game.
Sowards was an all-Southeast District Division IV wideout a year ago, as standout running back Michael Stitt suffered an injury at Gallia Academy two weeks back– and was limited to only one carry for 10 yards against South Point.
Stitt has rushed for 573 yards on 66 carries, while Hunt has 20 receptions for 380 yards.
Kalb said his Trojans must defend the Dragons well – and aim to avoid getting into a track meet on grass.
“I think Fairland, with their athleticism, matches up well with us. We want to make sure we have a good week of practice and stay focused so we don’t come out flat,” he said.
But with Parker in the backfield, the Trojans have the best playmaker on board – and they not need Nintendo’s Tecmo Bowl to prove that.
2019 OVC Leaders (League Only)
|5||Austin Stapleton||Coal Grove||2021||129||631||5|
|6||Logan Hankins||Rock Hill||2020||100||619||5|
|7||James Armstrong||Gallia Academy||2021||86||608||6|
|8||Michael Beasy||Gallia Academy||2021||84||604||9|