Tanks roll into championship game

Safety Chris Hill has been a big catalyst in West Portsmouth’s defensive success this season.

Snook Martin’s effective play and ability to adjust to change has been crucial to the Tanks’ success throughout the season.

The West Portsmouth Tanks’ football program defeated the West Virginia Lightning on Saturday evening by a 36-0 count in the BCFL (Blue Collar Football League) Eastern Conference Championship Game. With the win, the Tanks not only moved up to No. 13 overall nationally in the semi-pro football ranks, but advanced to the BCFL title affair on Sept. 9, where the Tanks will play the Butler County Broncos. West Portsmouth defeated Butler County, 37-6 and 22-16 in the regular season.

The release of Madden NFL 18 on Friday has football fans glued to their television sets to play the hit video game.

Gamers love the series for how well it mimics real-life football, but you would be hard pressed to put up a performance like the West Portsmouth Tanks did on Saturday – even on the popular video game.

West Portsmouth faced off against the West Virginia Lightning Saturday for a chance to play in the Blue Collar Football League championship game. In a dominating 36-0 victory, the Tanks posted statistics that would be hard to match in the virtual world, let alone real life.

On defense, West Portsmouth held West Virginia to -48 yards of total offense. The Tanks forced four turnovers, recorded seven sacks, and didn’t allow a single first down to the Lightning.

You don’t have to ask John Madden to know that’s about as good as it gets defensively.

As breathtaking as the stats may be, this all routine for a stingy Tanks team that is used to fielding a stout-nosed defense.

“We’ve held teams to less yards,” Tanks head coach Jamie Rice said. “We’ve held teams to less than -48, we’ve done that before, but never the zero first downs.”

Defensive coordinator Brian Wroten was impressed with his team’s defensive efforts, though he wasn’t quite ready to call it a perfect game. “That’s about as close to perfect of a defensive performance that you could have,” Wroten said.

The only thing missing for the Tanks was a defensive touchdown. West Portsmouth has scored on defense in nine of the 11 games they’ve played in this season in what has been a phenomenal season for the Tanks, who are 11-1 this season (they won one game by forfeit).

“With those guys, it just makes everyone’s job so much easier,” Rice said. “That definitely takes the pressure off a little bit on the offense.”

In the championship game, the Tanks will face a familiar opponent in the Butler County Bulldogs. West Portsmouth is 2-0 against Butler County this season, including a 22-16 win in overtime for the Tanks’ season finale.

Following the loss to the Tanks, the Broncos have been able to rebound, winning their last three games in the playoffs to get to the championship. In those games, the Broncos have averaged 35 points per game.

Butler County’s offense is a cause of concern for the West Portsmouth coaching staff, who recognize the talent the Broncos have on that side of the ball.

“They’re a really talented offense,” Rice said about Butler County. “They have a quarterback who can move around and make some plays.”

In the last meeting between the two teams, Broncos quarterback Steve Cunningham was able to avoid pressure. West Portsmouth sacked Cunningham twice in that one, but more often than not Butler County had success avoiding the pass rush.

Cunningham has one of the most dynamic targets in all of the BCFL in Tae White, a 6 foot 4 inch receiver who West Portsmouth’s coaches say is one of the most explosive players they have faced.

“He’s one of the best wide receivers I’ve seen in five years of doing this,” Wroten said. “Both times we played him this year, he made a catch where all you could do is shake your head.”

Wroten added, “He’s one of those receivers that you can do everything right and he’ll still make the catch.”

Rice said much of the same about White’s potential to make plays. Rice said that White is “probably as good of a receiver as I’ve seen in this league, or any other league that I’ve been a part of.”

The Broncos have another potent weapon in their backfield with running back Rob Givens. Givens has been held in check in the two games against the Tanks so far this season, but had over 300 yards rushing in Butler County’s first playoff game according to Wroten.

“They have some elite skill position talent,” Wroten said about the Broncos. Despite the weapons Butler County has, Wroten is still optimistic the Tanks can rise to the occasion.

“As long as we do a good job of setting the edge and containing, I think everything else will take care of itself in this ballgame,” Wroten said.

As for the Tanks offense, West Portsmouth was able to get a touchdown from five different players in the win over West Virginia.

The Tanks had a lot of success on the ground, finishing with 262 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns. Once again, the Wing-T was a staple of success for West Portsmouth.

“When we go to the T, we put Luke Brown back there, Tony Murphy, Dale Swords, Jontez Jones,” Rice said. “All four of those guys, it would be crazy if you added up the yards they had in high school.”

The four aforementioned Tanks primarily make an impact on defense, but as soon as West Portsmouth switches to the T formation, the big bruisers strap on their chin straps to play offense.

Rice loves the problems that his offense is able to create when they run plays from that formation. “You’re not just putting some big bodies back there, you’re putting in some really good football players,” Rice said on the quartet of players.

The biggest component of the T formation, though, is the offensive line. When the line is playing aggressive, the formation is hard to stop.

Without a doubt, the offensive line is a key component for the Tanks to win the championship.

“The defense is solid, it has been all year,” Rice said. “That offensive line, if they play well, we have the running backs, we have the skill position players, we have the guys.”

Although it’s easier said than done, Rice believes if the Tanks can echo their performance they had versus West Virginia that they are in a good spot to win. “That offensive line, if they play like they did against the Lightning, I like our chances,” Rice said.

West Portsmouth will try for their second championship in three seasons (they won the league championship in 2015 as the Portsmouth Warriors) on Sept. 9 at The Complex in West Portsmouth at 6 p.m.

Reach Benjamin Spicer at (502)264-7318 or on Twitter @BSpicerPDT