PORTAGE – Entering Friday’s District 6 Class A quarterfinal at No. 2 seed Portage without its leading rusher, Purchase Line relied heavily on its rugged offensive line.
The Red Dragons’ unit paved the way to the tune of 353 rushing yards on 57 carries, only needing to pass the ball twice.
No. 7 seed Purchase Line scored touchdowns on each of its first three drives to gain early control and never relinquished momentum throughout the night at Portage Memorial Stadium.
Purchase Line held a potent Portage offense without an offensive touchdown as the Red Dragons advanced with a 25-6 triumph.
“We didn’t plan on doing that to Portage. We thought it was going to be a close game, a battle throughout,” said Purchase Line senior Kyle Day, who compiled 133 rushing yards on just 11 carries and tallied two touchdowns. “That first quarter, I think it just put something into our heads. I can’t even explain what happened. We just played amazing all around, everywhere.”
Portage, tri-champions of the WestPAC and playing in just its second game in four weeks, failed to gain much traction offensively. The Mustangs (8-3) finished with just 102 total yards on 41 plays as the program lost for the third straight year at home coming off of a bye week.
“They stuck it to us. They punched us really hard in the face and we didn’t accept it very well,” Portage coach Gary Gouse said. “They controlled the line of scrimmage, they really did even without their best runner. Their offensive and defensive lines won the game for them, hands down.”
Purchase Line moves on to play the winner of Saturday’s Homer-Center at Juniata Valley contest in the semifinals. Junior Josh Syster was injured and did not play. Syster racked up 1,370 rushing yards and 16 total touchdowns.
“All week, you lose your best running back, a 1,400-yard rusher, we knew (quarterback Jacob) Barnett was going to have to step up,” Purchase Line coach Matt Falisec said.
“Offensively all week, I was worried about putting points on them. The kids played tremendously. The first quarter was probably the best football we’ve played all season.”
Senior Cullen Goncher, a 225-pound bruiser, added 87 rushing yards on 19 carries. Quarterback Jacob Barnett netted 87 yards on 19 totes to provide a balanced attack.
Purchase Line set the tone right away by driving 71 yards on nine rushing plays. Day capped the series with a 6-yard touchdown. Logan McCracken’s kick made it 7-0.
After a Portage three-and-out, Purchase Line (8-4) needed eight plays to march 72 yards. Barnett faked a handoff to the fullback and found paydirt from 16 yards out to lead 13-0 after the first.
Portage failed to convert a fourth-and-6. Purchase Line increased its edge with a seven-play, 59-yard series. Barnett’s 13-yard score came on a sneak.
The Mustangs had a fake punt negated by a holding penalty. But on Purchase Line’s next play, Barnett was stripped of the ball while Portage defensive lineman Mitchell Miko picked it up and rumbled 44 yards for a touchdown. Portage trailed 19-6 at halftime.
After a Portage three-and-out, Purchase Line marched 73 yards on 12 plays. Barnett dropped back to pass for the first time on third-and-8. Portage’s blitz was thwarted as Day caught a slip screen in the middle of the field and raced toward his team’s sideline for a 21-yard score. Purchase Line led 25-6 with 4:16 left in the third.
Portage turned the ball over on downs three times.
Purchase Line finished with notable advantages in total yards (374-102), first downs (20-8) and rushing yards (353-89).
Gabe Forst led Portage with 74 rushing yards on 12 carries.
Having two byes over the past four weeks did not do Portage any favors.
“That didn’t fare well for us,” Gouse said. “It looked in the first half that we just weren’t there mentally.”