PORTAGE – When a team scores four touchdowns on its first 10 offensive plays, you know it’s going to be a pretty good night for that squad, and that was the case for Portage on Friday night.
The Mustangs (2-0) put up 36 unanswered first-quarter points and rolled to a 65-14 win over visiting North Star, with Portage’s offense proving to be as diverse as it was effective.
Eight different Mustangs found the end zone, as 11 ball carriers combined for 441 rushing yards. Three Portage passers combined for 107 yards through the air, with three different receivers catching touchdown passes.
“It’s tough for defenses to key on one guy when we have this many talented skill position players,” said Portage coach Gary Gouse. “We make the defense have to cover the entire field.”
Mustang quarterback Connor Price made the most of his one half of play, completing five of seven passes for 86 yards and three touchdowns, while rushing for 87 yards and another score on three carries.
Portage’s defense limited the Cougars (1-1) to 149 total yards and forced three North Star turnovers.
“This was not a good night for us,” said North Star coach Wes Berkebile. “When you get down like we did against a good team, it takes a lot to get back on track.”
The Mustangs wasted little time in setting the tone for the contest. After a Cougar three-and-out to start the game, Gabe Forst returned the ensuing punt 45 yards to the North Star 5, and Seth Georg took it in on the next play. Price ran in for the conversion to make it 8-0.
Portage then scored on their next three possessions, all on drives that lasted less than a minute each.
Jon Wolford’s 23-yard touchdown run was followed by a 9-yard scoring pass from Price to Payton Zatek.
After a Forst interception, Price found Georg for a 35-yard touchdown, and Price then broke free for a 55-yard score to make it 36-0 in the final minute of the first quarter.
The Cougars finally got on the board when Kyle Price hit Alec Supanick in stride behind the Mustang secondary for a 75-yard touchdown, but Portage responded with three more scoring drives before the break.
Price’s third touchdown pass, a 1-yard toss to Forst, came with just over eight minutes left in the half.
“Our play-action passes were working well tonight,” Gouse said.
Tyler Spaid sprinted 64 yards to paydirt on the next Mustang possession, and after defensive end Lucas Douglas tipped and intercepted a Kyle Price pass at the Cougar 25, Scott Berardinelli capped off the first-half onslaught for the Mustangs with a 9-yard touchdown run that made it 57-7 at the break.
Both squads’ reserves saw extensive playing time in the second half with the mercy-rule running clock in effect.
A big special teams play set up a third-quarter touchdown for the Cougars as a blocked punt gave North Star the ball at the Portage 10, and two plays later Ty Maluchnik took it in from 5 yards out.
Portage’s last score came on the final play of the third quarter after a 46-yard run by Ty Kennedy set up a 29-yard touchdown by Oren Heidler.
“It was nice to get a win like this and get everyone in the game, but we’ve got to buckle down and get ready for next week,” Gouse said, as his club will host fellow WestPAC unbeaten Windber in a key early-season contest.
The Cougars will host Blacklick Valley. “We’re going to watch some film and learn from our mistakes,” Berkebile said. “This is a resilient group and we will bounce back.”