The West Portsmouth Tanks have been rolling through their schedule so far this season, outscoring opponents 287-24 on their way to a 5-0 record. On Saturday, they’ll have what should be their toughest test yet in a road game against the league’s only other undefeated team, the Butler County Broncos.
“They are always a challenge,” Tanks head coach Jamie Rice told Developmental Football USA. “We split with them last year – we won at home and they won at home. The year before that, when we were the Portsmouth Warriors, we beat them in the league championship.”
Later in the year, the Tanks will host the Broncos and get on the road again for their rematch against the West Virginia Lightning. At this point, these two teams seem to be the biggest potential obstacles standing in the way of an undefeated season.
“It’s going to take traveling well and honestly, getting some more offensive reps,” Rice said. “We’re still a little sloppy. We score a lot of points, but we’re still getting better. We’re still improving on offense and we’ve got a little ways to go. Defensively, those guys are hitting on all cylinders, they are setting it on fire. That’s a great problem to have.”
Four of the Tanks’ five wins were by a margin of at least 41 points and typically at this level, when a game gets out of hand, there’s a running clock for a quarter, or a half, or sometimes even longer.
“Meaningful offensive reps is what we’ve got to get and those will come up because we will have some tight games coming up, so we’ll get some reps in,” Rice said. “You’re not going to beat a team like Butler County or the Lightning by 50 points. When you get on the road at this level, you look to just come back with a victory, if at all possible.”
The Tanks’ touchdowns have come on all three phases of the game, which, while great for the team and their record, has limited the reps for the offense.
“We spread the ball around so much that we haven’t really ran many plays,” Rice said. “We’ve had a lot of running clocks in the second half and things like that. There was one game we played that we only ran 16 plays.
“We have had really good quarterback play from a guy by the name of Job Swords. He’s done really well. He’s a rookie, he’s a young kid, 19 years old, but he’s done a really nice job.”
Wide receiver Michael Clay has been one of Swords’ go-to targets with seven touchdowns already on the season.
“He’s not in the game very much,” Rice said. “I think we’ve ran 179 total plays in five games, but most of those probably came in that first game and then in that game with the Lightning we ran quite a few plays against them. We ran 28 total plays of offense on Saturday and won 53-6 with a running clock in the second half.
“My biggest enemy right now is the running clock, I can’t get all of my guys good reps.”
The defense has been absolutely dominant for West Portsmouth, forcing 32 turnovers in just five games. The Tanks defense has intercepted 21 passes, forced 11 fumbles and scored nine defensive touchdowns.
“Our defense scores a lot,” Rice said. “They’ve done a really good job. Our free safety, Richard Elery, I think he has five interceptions, three touchdowns and two punt return touchdowns. We keep our defense out on punt returns. I think he has five touchdowns in five games, total.”
Strong safety Chris Hill was named the Blue Collar Football League Defensive Player of the Week after last week’s performance. Hill, who was the League’s Defensive MVP last year, finished last game with eight tackles, two sacks, one pass deflection and two interceptions – one he ran back for a 48-yard touchdown.
“He’s having another really phenomenal year, doing really well,” Rice said.
“On defense, we rotate so much. Our defensive line in general is doing a phenomenal job. The defensive coordinator and I were talking about it and these guys don’t get as many sacks as you would think, but they’re getting a ton of pressure and making the quarterback throw the ball up and that’s why we have 21 interceptions, because the defensive line and the linebackers are getting a ton of pressure.”
Two games against the Broncos and another against the Lightning will show just how good this West Portsmouth defense is, but so far they’re making a case to be Rice’s best ever.
“I thought we had a good defense two years ago, when we were with the Warriors and we won the national championship, but this defense is special and it’s really fast,” Rice said. “The windows are so small for the opponent that it’s kind of amazing to watch and be close to it.”
A big reason the Tanks have been successful is the job the coaching staff and front office have done of keeping the team focused on its mission and setting a certain standard of character for their players to meet.
“Number one, be a good teammate,” Rice said. “Number two, don’t embarrass the organization on or off the field. If you can do those two things, you can always stay with us. Those are basically our two rules, don’t embarrass our organization and be a good teammate.”
In addition to creating a good atmosphere around the team, which allows it to be successful, the Tanks also find opportunities to impact their local community.
“We’re trying to get together a youth football camp coming up,” Rice said. “We’ve got a date in mind, but we’re still working on that. We definitely want to do that for the community, but nothing is set in stone on that yet. We want to get that rapped up, hopefully in the next week or so.”