PORTAGE – Portage’s offense masterfully mixed the run and the pass to pile up yardage against WestPAC rival Windber on Friday night.
The Mustangs defense methodically moved to the ball while neutralizing the Ramblers’ potent ground game in the single wing.
At times throughout Portage’s 35-7 victory it appeared as if the Mustangs knew exactly what the Ramblers were about to do on offense.
“Overall a great win,” Portage coach Gary Gouse said after his team improved to 3-0. “Last year we were embarrassed and it just ate at us for a whole year. Our kids took it to heart. We had a great week of practice.”
Windber edged the Mustangs 18-7 in Week 3 last season, a point Gouse didn’t have to remind his coaches and players of in the week leading up to this meeting of unbeaten squads at Portage Stadium.
“We took a lot of pride in film work this week,” Gouse said. “We tested our kids. We gave them paper tests. Everybody was point on about what was going on. They were doing their job. We weren’t doing that last year.”
Portage limited Windber (2-1) to a net 58 rushing yards on 28 carries. The Ramblers had a net 1 rushing yard in the first half.
Freshman standout John Shuster, the area’s leading rusher with 405 yards entering the week, finished with 14 yards on 14 carries.
Freshman Blake Klosky’s late 43-yard touchdown run beefed up the Ramblers’ ground game statistics and broke the shutout. Sophomore quarterback Aiden Gray completed 5 of 11 passes for 76 yards.
“They beat us up front,” Windber coach Matt Grohal said. “We just couldn’t get going. When you lose the line of scrimmage, you lose the game. That’s what happened tonight. They beat us up front.”
When asked to describe the Mustangs’ defense, Grohal said, “Aggressive.”
“They played downhill,” Grohal said. “We just weren’t up to the challenge up front and we couldn’t get going. Their linebackers play so aggressively. We tried to screen them to slow them down. It was one of those nights where things didn’t go our way.
“At the end of the day, they dominated the line of scrimmage.”
Portage senior quarterback Connor Price had more than 100 yards both rushing (nine carries, 113 yards, one TD) and passing (11 of 18, 117 yards, two TDs). Those numbers might have been better. Mustangs players dropped at least four passes, including a couple open looks in the end zone.
“We were studying all week and were working on knowing their defense and knowing their offense,” Price said.
Portage possessed the ball for 8 minutes, 30 seconds in the opening quarter and led 7-0.
The Mustangs first scoring drive included 16 plays for 77 yards and used 6:04 of game clock.
Josh Morgan caught Price’s 22-yard pass for a touchdown with 3:36 left. Dylan Tubbs booted the extra point.
The Mustangs built on the margin with a 12-play, 64-yard march that ate up 4:57 of the second-quarter clock. Price passed 12 yards to Gabe Forst for a touchdown 3:47 before halftime. Tubbs made it 14-0.
“I really liked the play-calling coach (Mike) Fox had on offense,” Gouse said of his offensive coordinator. “He had a mix of throwing it, running it, throwing it. I don’t think they knew where the ball was going, and we dropped two or three touchdown passes that were open.
“That’s going to be a great look for other teams to see. The Mustangs have the ball in the air. They can throw. They can run.”
Portage had the ball for more than 14 minutes in the first half and collected 12 first downs. The Mustangs rushed for 73 yards and passed for 87.
Windber’s offense netted 1 rushing yard and passed for 33 yards in the opening half.
“Coach (Marty) Slanoc had the kids really ready,” Gouse said of his defensive coordinator.
The Mustangs didn’t have a sustained drive to open the second half.
All Price needed was one play to break loose on a 64-yard touchdown run at 11:40 of the third quarter.
“Our offensive line does a great job,” said Price, whose team produced 268 rushing yards on Friday.
Scott Berardinelli (nine carries, 92 yards) ran 33 yards for a touchdown that made it 28-0 with 6:37 left in the third, and Seth Georg (seven carries, 27 yards) scored from a yard out 5 seconds into the fourth quarter to put a running clock into motion.
Windber’s Klosky outraced the defense on a 43-yard touchdown run, and Evan Custer’s extra-point clanged off the top of the big scoreboard to pull the Ramblers within 35-7 with 7:24 left.
“It was really like a stain when we lost to them last year,” Price said.
“It stuck with us for a whole year. We were really anticipating this game. We wanted to get some revenge and redeem ourselves.”