PORTAGE – In the biggest game of his career thus far, Portage’s Marcus Douglas just wanted to make a contribution that would aid in the Mustangs’ success against unbeaten Meyersdale on Friday night in a WestPAC clash.
In the middle of the fourth quarter with the Red Raiders trailing 9-7, but driving toward the goal line, the junior defensive end made his mark. He stepped in front of Meyersdale’s Devin Kretchman and intercepted a pass from quarterback Mahlon Reese, returning it to the 25 and giving his team the opportunity to hold onto the ball and come away with a 16-7 victory over Meyersdale.
“In the beginning of the game, coach (Brandon) Vocco grabbed me by my chest and said that I wasn’t playing to the best of my ability and I had to dig down for something that I really cared about and to play to my full potential,” Douglas said. “On the play before (the interception), I said ‘I’m playing for my pap, I’m playing for my pap’ because he passed last year. As soon as I saw No. 32 (Devin Kretchman) run out, I just jumped. I don’t even remember hitting the ball, I just remember it being in the air and running.”
Portage coach Gary Gouse chuckled when asked about the play and Douglas as an unsung hero.
“We work with these drills and I coach the ends and he’s such a great kid,” Gouse said. “He is just always so worried about whether he is doing the right thing. He did the right thing tonight.
“This is the biggest win in the past couple of years. We’ve knocked on doors and we’ve gotten knocked away from games like this that made us cry for days. This is a great feeling for all of us. We told the kids all week ‘believe in each other. It’s your senior night, make it a memory that you will be able to play back for your kids that you will never forget’ and they did. This is a great moment. We are going to enjoy this.”
Both defenses were stout in the first half.
Drake Gindlesperger picked off Portage quarterback Connor Price once and the Mustangs returned the favor with Payton Zatek intercepting Reese. Meyersdale punted three times and the Mustangs twice while also turning the ball over on downs once.
The teams were in a scoreless tie at the intermission.
The Mustangs (7-1) took the second-half kickoff and drove 72 yards on a nine-play drive capped by a 35-yard Gabe Forst run. Dylan Tubbs’ kick went left, but Portage held a 6-0 lead.
Meyersdale went three-and-out on its next series and the Mustangs again galloped down the field to the 6. Tubbs got a chance to make up for the miss and kicked a field goal to put Portage ahead 9-0.
“I worked with Dylan all spring, he was a track kid of mine,” Gouse said. “We practiced every day and I looked at him (after he missed the extra point) and he knew. My thing was for him to go redeem himself and he did.”
After the Mustangs scored, the Red Raiders (7-1) responded with a six-play drive ending with an 18-yard Gindlesperger scamper and Brennan Campbell kick to narrow the gap to 9-7.
Portage had to punt on its next series setting up the Meyersdale drive, which ended with the Douglas pick.
The Mustangs took the ball the other direction with a nearly 5 minute drive ending with a Price 1-yard run and Tubbs kick.
The Red Raiders had one final shot, but the game ended with an Ian Thrower interception.
“I thought our defense tonight was just amazing,” Gouse said.
“Bend don’t break, bend don’t break. Give up a play, take away a play. Both teams, what a slugfest.”
“We didn’t play our game tonight, plain and simple,” Meyersdale coach Ryan Donaldson said. “We knew what we were up against tonight coming to Portage and playing Portage. They are a very good football team and they tested us. We were on the other side of things tonight.
“I told the guys that we have to get better. I told the guys that we have to learn from this and move forward.”