LLOYD The future looks bright for the Portsmouth Warriors.
The semi-pro football team will soon be basking in the Florida sun after a 35-24 win over the Butler County Broncos to claim the Blue Collar Football League championship Saturday night at Greenup County High School.
With the victory, the Warriors will compete at the Sunshine Bowl in Miami in January.
Portsmouth was unable to hold the championship game at Spartan Stadium due to a scheduling conflict, so the game was moved the Musketeers’ home field. Ricky Witt, owner and founder of the Warriors, is a Greenup County graduate. He said he couldn’t think of a better place for his team to win a title.
“It couldn’t have meant any more to have the game at the school I went to,” Witt said. “Especially after just three days of advertising. I am tickled with the turnout. … It’s a lot of mixed emotions. It’s a good feeling. If I wanted to win a championship, (playing) it here meant more to me.”
Portsmouth (13-1) was competing in its third consecutive league championship game. The club formerly known as the Northeastern Kentucky Warriors was runner-up the last two seasons as a member of the Northern Frontier Football League.
The third time was definitely the charm for Warriors coach Jamie Rice and his team.
“It feels really good,” Rice said. “The disappointment of losing the championship game the last two years was really tough. Every time we have lost, we have gotten a little better from it. We have learned from some of our mistakes. It feels great.”
Rice played on the Warriors team during their inaugural season in 2010. Now in his third season as head coach, he has racked up a 37-4 record.
“He’s not just a coach, he’s probably my best friend,” Witt said. “That is why everything works. It’s a business, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a family, too. All of coaches get along. I own, they coach, and the players play. We all work good together. He is the best friend l could ever have.”
Down 18-14 at halftime, Portsmouth stormed out of the locker on a mission. Luke Brown set the tone with a 35-yard run down the sideline on the Warriors’ first play of the second half.
Portsmouth’s big, bruising running back had 11 carries for 89 yards to go along with two touchdowns.
“We made some adjustments and changed up our offense a little bit,” Brown said. “We brought big (Tony) Murphy in at fullback with the T offense and we just shoved it down their throats the rest of the way.”
Murphy, who played high school football at Ironton, finished off the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run. That would start a stretch of 21 straight points for the Warriors to increase their lead to 35-18.
Rice said the message at halftime was simple: Get yourselves together and start playing some football.
“We were making some stupid mistakes that were putting us behind in down and distance,” Rice said. “We were really giving them good field position. We needed to clean up the mistakes, get focused and do what we do.”
Snook Martin, the BCFL Defensive Player of the Year, capped off the Warriors’ run early in the fourth quarter when he scooped up a botched Broncos snap and sprinted 45 yards to the end zone.
“We had a blitz called,” Martin said. “I was delaying on it a little bit. When I saw the ball go over (the quarterback’s) head, I just timed that little bounce on it. The third bounce I figured would go right up into the air. I caught in full stride and took off.”
The Portsmouth defense held Butler County (11-2) to just six points after halftime.
“Those guys have being playing awesome,” Rice said. “I thought we played a little flat there in the first half. They just decided they weren’t going to walk out of here with a loss. They played inspired. They really played well. And Snook, it seems like every game he makes a huge play.”
Jontez Jones finished with 74 yards rushing for the Warriors. Quarterback Justin Lunsford was 9 of 14 for 105 yards and a TD. Michael Morton caught two passes for 25 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown catch.
Rob Givens led the Broncos with 155 yards on the ground to go along with a 13-yard TD run in the fourth. He was named the Most Valuable Player of the championship game.
The opponent for the Warriors’ bowl game is yet to be determined. After Saturday’s night win, Portsmouth was crowned the spring-summer champion in Class 2A of minor league football. It will clash with the fall-winter title holder at the Sunshine Bowl to determine the overall 2A champion.