PORTSMOUTH, Ohio — It all came down to one play, Saturday night at historic Spartan Municipal Stadium.
The Portsmouth Notre Dame football team – which turned an 18-point third quarter deficit to just three points late in fourth quarter – had a chance to steal a win with a fourth-and-goal on the Tornadoes 1-yard line with nine seconds remaining in regulation. The Purple and Gold defensive front broke through the Titans’ offensive line to tackle the NDHS runner in the backfield, forcing a turnover on downs and sealing the 21-18 SHS victory to open the season.
“It was a great stop,” seventh year SHS head coach Kyle Wickline said. “Our d-line and linebackers got up in there, we kind of had a feeling of what they were going to do, but I called a timeout because I wasn’t 100 percent sure if they were going to fake it or something like that. The whole way through it I thought I had really messed up, but those guys backed me up, made a great effort up front and made a play.”
The timeout call proved to be the right decision, as Notre Dame — which ran out of timeouts earlier in the fourth — was lining up for a potential game tying field goal. Titans’ kicker Drew Cassidy was 1-for-1 on field goal attempts in the game, having made one early in the second quarter to cut the deficit to 7-3.
The Tornadoes — who were forced to punt on their first drive of the game — had better luck on their second drive, as junior quarterback Blake Johnson found junior tight end Crenson Rogers for six points from seven yards out. SHS senior Tommy Ramthun added the point after kick to give SHS the 7-0 lead with three minutes to play in the first.
After the Titans’ 31-yard field goal cut the lead to four, Southern took over at their own 43 yard line. The Purple and Gold posted five first downs and took over eight minutes of the clock, before Johnson connected with Rogers for the duo’s second touchdown of the evening. This time the scoring toss was from 23 yards out and, after Ramthun added the extra point, gave the Tornadoes a 14-3 with 1:59 remaining in the first half.
The Tornado defense forced a turnover on downs on the next Notre Dame possession, and the Purple and Gold went into halftime with a 14-3 advantage.
Both teams punted on their first possessions after halftime, but Southern was setup in excellent field position at the NDHS 33-yard line to start their second drive of the third quarter. Tornadoes halfback Kody Greene kept the drive alive with a 6-yard run on third-and-short, but the Purple and Gold faced another third down after a mishandled snap on second-and-six.
Johnson went to the air on third down and found Ramthun for a 18-yard touchdown, with 4:12 remaining in the third. Ramthun added the point after kick and SHS extended its lead to 21-3.
The Titan offense found its rhythm for the first time late in the third quarter and the Blue and Gold converted three first downs on their way to six points. The 60-yard drive, which was capped off by a 30 yard touchdown run by halfback Sam Kayser, and a point after kick by Cassidy, trimmed the SHS lead to 21-10 with 1:46 remaining in the third.
The Tornado offense was forced into three-and-outs on their next two possessions, but pinned the Titans deep in their own territory with excellent punts.
Notre Dame, which started three second half drives inside its own 25-yardline, got on the Tornadoes side of the field with seven minutes to play, thanks to a 41-yard run by senior Michael Collins.
Four plays after Collins’ long run, NDHS found itself back in the endzone on a six yard scoring run by Kayser. Kayser also ran in the two-point conversion and Southern’s lead was cut to 21-18 with 5:47 left in regulation.
Back-to-back costly penalties set the Tornado offense back to its own nine-yard line, facing a first-and-30 to start the ensuing drive. SHS never managed to make it back to the original line of scrimmage and was forced to punt with 3:24 left in the game.
The Titans began their drive on the SHS 46-yardline and six plays later the hosts were facing first-and-goal from the 10-yardline with 1:21 remaining in regulation. The Titans kept the ball on the ground with three straight runs, gaining nine yards with their hurry-up offense.
NDHS attempted a sweep to the left side on fourth down from the one and a host of Tornadoes brought down the ball carrier on the 2-yardline with four seconds remaining. Southern executed its offensive play without a hiccup, sealing the 21-18 victory.
“A win is a win in the first week,” Wickline said. “There are a lot teams in the state of Ohio would love to be 1-0 right now and we are. We have some things we need to work on and clear up. We’ll do that and get better.”
Johnson led the Tornado offense with 95 yards and three touchdowns, on 8-of-10 passing. Rogers caught four passes for 58 yards and two scores, Ramthun had one reception for 18 yards and a score, while Dylan Smith added three grabs for 19 yards and nine rushes for 22 yards. Greene led all Tornado rushers with 12 carries for 30 yards.
The Purple and Gold defense was led by Brody Richards with eight tackles, followed by Greene and Ramthun with seven apiece.
Kayser paced the NDHS offense with 161 yards on 20 carries, with 14 yards receiving. Collins marked 64 yards on 12 carries for the hosts, while Cassidy completed 3-of-8 passes for 34 yards.
The SHS win was not without a loss however, as Tornado junior Jaylen Blanks was injured on Notre Dame’s first punt.
“It affected us a bunch,” Wickline said of losing Blanks. “He’s the main key to our offense, he’s our speed guy and probably our best athlete. Everyone else really picked up the pieces and all the pieces got picked up. Everyone just kind of jumped in, helped out and did what they had to do to win.”
Southern has now defeated Notre Dame in four consecutive meetings, dating back to 2005. This marks the third straight season the Purple and Gold have opened the season with a win. This marks the first road win for the Tornadoes since October 13, 2013 when SHS claimed a 60-0 win at Miller.
The Purple and Gold return to the gridiron on Friday when they host Frontier at Roger Lee Adams Memorial Football Field. Notre Dame will look to move to 1-1 on the year when the Titans visit Manchester on Friday.
Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.