John Shuster

Windber running back John Shuster takes one in for a touchdown during a WestPAC game against Portage, in Portage, Friday, Oct.22, 2021.

PORTAGE, Pa. – Windber scored 62 points against a very solid Portage team on the road on a rainy Friday night.

Yet, the oft-used phrase “defense wins championships” never seemed more appropriate.

The undefeated Ramblers clinched the WestPAC title in a 62-7 victory over the Mustangs and earned a spot opposite unbeaten Heritage Conference winner Cambria Heights in next Saturday's Appalachian Bowl at Penns Manor High School.

Windber (8-0), whose first-team defense has allowed only one touchdown this season, claimed its first conference crown since sharing the prize in 2012 with Berlin Brothersvalley and Portage, and its sixth overall.

“Outmatched and outclassed at every phase of the game,” Portage coach Marty Slanoc said, crediting the Ramblers after his 6-2 team lost its second straight contest. “That’s the best team we’ve seen in this conference in years.

“We thought a few weeks ago maybe they were mortal but I think, if anything, that woke them up,” Slanoc said of Windber’s hard-fought 20-6 win at Berlin in Week 7.

“Defensively, that’s the best team that I think we’ve ever gone against that I remember as far as our conference.”

Coming off an open week, Windber methodically moved the ball on offense, stopped the Mustangs on defense and put points on the scoreboard.

The Ramblers ran 46 times for a net 490 rushing yards. The only pass completion was a 21-yard touchdown catch and run by senior Nick Dom to convert a fourth-and-19.

Conversely, Portage netted 2 rushing yards on 21 carries. The Mustangs had 46 passing yards and only three first downs overall.

“It starts up front with the D line. They just get pressure on the quarterback every time,” said Windber junior Blake Klosky. “Then us linebackers read the guards and get to plays. That’s it.

“We just played to our responsibility.”

Klosky also contributed to the ground game with 80 yards on five carries, including a 53-yard TD run.

Senior Nick Dom was a featured runner out of the Ramblers’ single wing offense as Grohal tried to limit the carries of leading rusher John Shuster, who aggravated a shoulder injury at Berlin.

Dom ran 12 times for 154 yards, including a 41-yard touchdown.

“The line just did a really nice job, opening the holes, doing what they do every week,” Dom said. “Clearing it up for us, making it look easy.”

Shuster still was a presence with 16 carries for 90 rushing yards. The junior surpassed 1,000 yards for a third straight season (unofficially 90 carries, 1,017 yards).

“Anything these guys do doesn’t surprise me,” Windber coach Matt Grohal said. “They were so cranked up and ready for this. I just think the whole mystique of Windber and Portage, the last showdown.

"It doesn’t take much motivation to get cranked up for these guys. When you add on that other stuff, those guys going to the Heritage. ... We had two weeks to prepare for them and we were firing on all cylinders.”

Portage officially will join the Heritage Conference next season.

“This means a lot,” Klosky said. “We’ve been working for this. It’s my junior year. We’ve been working for this three years, the seniors four years. We want to keep it rolling.”

Dom ran 39 yards to spark the Ramblers’ first drive, a nine-play, 77-yard march capped by Shuster’s 1-yard run. Jordan Wright’s extra-point made it 7-0. Shuster ran 6 yards for a TD to make it 14-0 at 3:14 of the first quarter.

Dom broke tackles on his 41-yard scoring run on the first play of the second quarter. The Ramblers stretched the advantage to 26-0 after a 10-play, 49-yard drive that ended on Dom’s 21-yard touchdown catch-and-run 1:03 before halftime.

Keith Charney returned the second half kickoff 90 yards, and Dom ran a two-point conversion as the Ramblers made it 34-0 only 15 seconds into the third quarter.

Klosky’s 53-yard touchdown run put a running clock into motion at 9:21 of the third. Dylan Tomlinson scored from 5 yards out to set a 48-0 tally after three quarters.

“We couldn’t find a match up,” Slanoc said. “We couldn’t find something that we would like and we’ve had some success all year against everybody. Even when we had the seam, they defeated the block and got through. They just outmanned us everywhere.”

With junior varsity players on the field for both teams, Portage’s Anthony Coukart returned a fumble 21 yards for a TD, and area kicking points leader Dylan Tubbs hit the extra point.

Windber had late TD runs of 61 yards by Colin Marx and 27 yards by Dalton Hileman, as well as a two-point conversion run by Jonah Oyler.

Mike Mastovich is a sports reporter and columnist for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5083. Follow him on Twitter @Masty81.

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Sports Reporter

Mike Mastovich is a sports reporter and columnist for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5083. Follow him on Twitter @Masty81.

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