Football 6

BLAIRSVILLE – A once-promising start has degenerated into a shaky finish for the Portage Mustangs.

Angelo Bartolini rushed for a game-high 129 yards and two touchdowns to lead River Valley to a 21-6 victory on Friday night against the Mustangs in a WestPAC-Heritage Conference crossover game at Ernie Widmar Field at Memorial Stadium.

“A couple of weeks ago we played a team that we thought we gave it away. We started off great, and then in the second half faded,” Mustangs coach Marty Slanoc said. “Last week, we didn’t show up. (Windber) was better than we were.”

Portage opened the season with six consecutive victories.

The Mustangs, who have not won since Oct. 1 against United, await word as to who they will play in the District 6 playoffs. All pairings will be announced on Sunday.

River Valley won its second consecutive game after losses to Homer-Center and Cambria Heights that foiled a season-opening six-game winning streak.

“We started playing defense and our line started to block a little bit better, and that’s why we got it going again tonight,” River Valley coach Jess Houser said.

Portage managed 249 total yards. Oren Heidler led the Mustangs with 79 rushing yards.

Jon Wolford added 52 rushing yards and a 1-yard scoring run in the third quarter. The Panthers (8-2), however, had attained a 14-0 lead at the break, led by Angelo and Rocco Bartolini.

Angelo Bartolini’s first score, a 1-yard run, completed a seven-play possession that started after the Mustangs’ only turnover of the night as Connor Rebo recovered a fumbled snap at the River Valley 30-yard line.

This led to a seven-play scoring march that ended with a 1-yard touchdown run by Bartolini.

“We shot ourselves in the foot in the first half, had opportunities, gave up some plays that we really shouldn’t have given up,” Slanoc said.

Rocco Bartolini added a 10-yard touchdown reception in the second period to put Portage behind by two scores. Braden Staats completed 6 of 9 passes for 60 yards.

He was intercepted once.

Portage’s lone score came on an eight-play, 70-yard drive that featured plenty of no-huddle schemes.

“We like to do some of those things. We wanted to mix up the pace, and we had them reeling a little bit,” Slanoc said. “And then we shot ourselves in the foot.”

“We were out of position here and there with a couple of kids,” Houser said. “We had to get them set on the line and ready to go. and we shut them down after that.”

Andrew Miko completed 8 of 23 passes for 115 yards. Wolford led Portage with five pass receptions for 89 yards.

Slanoc said the Mustangs have received a promising idea of what they can expect as they transition from the WestPAC to Heritage Conference.

“(The Panthers are) a solid team. They’ve got good runners, they block up front, they’re tough,” he said. “It was a pretty evenly matched, hard-fought game. and that’s what we’re looking forward to, coming over here into the Heritage.”

Bartolini tacked on the game’s final touchdown, an 8-yard run that came with 2:10 left in the final period.

“He’s a hard runner,” Houser said. “Once he gets going, he gets more and more pumped up, and he keeps rolling.”

“He’s very good. He’s a load. I know he was battling an injury. and I thought we did a pretty good job on him, aside from a couple of busted plays in the first half,” Slanoc said.

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