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ROME TOWNSHIP, Ohio — Melvin Cunningham pointed out that unlike baseball, there are no rainouts in high school football and, in contrast to basketball, no indoor games.

The Fairland High School football coach led his team to a 15-14 victory over Portsmouth Friday night on the natural grass and mud at Jim Mayo Memorial Stadium. The Dragons (6-1 overall, 3-1 Ohio Valley Conference) are the lone OVC team without an artificial turf field.

“This is real football,” Cunningham said. “Well, it’s all real football, whether on grass or turf, but the elements make it intriguing. This was fun. We fell. They fell. We had bad snaps. They had bad snaps. The weather affected both teams.”

Portsmouth (6-2, 3-2) played on grass for the first time this season, but coach Bruce Kalb refused to blame the weather for the loss. Instead, he complimented Fairland.

“We knew it was going to be a battle,” Kolb said. “At halftime, the energy wasn’t what I wanted it to be. I told the kids we still have 24 minutes of football to play. Do we want the second half to be like the first or more how like we want to play? I thought we stepped up defensively and on offense we found a way to get a couple in, but unfortunately came up just short.”

The Dragons defense was stout, despite giving up touchdown passes of 19 and 52 yards. Fairland held the Trojans to minus-2 yards rushing on 14 carries. Portsmouth quarterback Drew Roe was 20 for 30 for 201 yards. His 2-point conversion pass attempt under heavy pressure was batted down by Kam Kitts with 1:12 to play, securing a triumph for the home team.

“We felt confident in the call we had dialed up,” Kolb said of the conversion pass. “We practiced a lot. It’s one of those if you get it you look like a genius.. If you don’t, maybe you shouldn’t have. We thought it was the right call to make. Unfortunately, it ended a little better on their end than ours.”

Fairland defeated Portsmouth 34-6 on the artificial turf of the Trojan Coliseum in 2020. Cunningham played cornerback at Marshall University for coach Bobby Pruett, who was asked during in 1997 Mid-American Conference Media Day how the Thundering Herd would respond to cold, muddy fields in the league. Pruett said, “If we’re faster on turf, we’ll be faster on mud.”

The Dragons managed just two first downs in the second half and were flagged for more than 60 yards in penalties, but twice stopped the Trojans inside the 14-yard line for no points.

“We found a way,” Cunningham said.

Both teams return to action at 7 p.m. Friday. Fairland visits Coal Grove (4-3, 3-2), Portsmouth entertains South Point (1-6, 1-4).

Tim Stephens is a sports writer with The Herald-Dispatch.

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