Gary Gouse expects a throwback atmosphere when Windber visits Portage in a meeting of undefeated WestPAC teams on Friday night.
The veteran Mustangs coach referred to an often storied series between two of the region’s most successful small-school programs nestled in football-rich communities.
As far as recent history, as in Windber’s 18-7 victory over Portage last year, Gouse and the Mustangs have found a bit of extra motivation.
“We had too many turnovers last year that happened way too often that put our backs against the wall,” Gouse said. “We have to eliminate that. We had this game in the back of our mind for a whole year.
“Our kids are ready to play.”
Portage has outscored Blacklick Valley (48-0) and North Star (65-14) by a combined 113-14 through two weeks.
Similarly, a youthful Windber squad has outpointed Conemaugh Township (52-6) and Ferndale (48-14) by a 100-20 count.
“They’ve got weapons all over the place and it all starts with their quarterback Connor Price,” Grohal said of the Mustangs. “He’s been a field general for them.
“They look very good on offense, both wings plus the fullback. They look good all over the place.
“They’re going to force you to defend the whole field. Through two games they look amazing on offense.
“For as young as we are, we have played pretty sound defense in our first two games,” the Ramblers coach added.
Windber has the area’s leading rusher in freshman John Shuster (60 carries, 405 yards, 36 points). Sophomore Dylan Tomlinson has 177 rushing yards.
Sophomore quarterback Aiden Gray has thrown for 174 yards, with senior Evan Custer catching six passes for 153 yards.
“We have not turned the ball over all year. We’re a plus-5 on the season,” Grohal said. “That’s a good recipe for victory. For as young as we are, that’s one of the big things we stress each week. If we can protect the football and sustain drives, we can be successful.”
Portage senior Price has rushed for 130 yards and two touchdowns and passed for 128 yards and four scores. Senior Gabe Forst has 177 rushing yards and senior Seth Georg has six catches for 112 yards.
“Offensively we’ve got a lot of kids that we can use,” Gouse said. “We’re trying to make you defend the whole field, not one player. It’s good to have that type of offense going. I don’t know if we will have a 1,000-yard rusher this year.”
Both coaches expect a large crowd at Portage Stadium.
“It’s two football crazy towns,” Grohal said. “We love going up to Portage. It’s a great atmosphere. The fans are right on top of it. We’ll be driving through town and the banners will be hanging up. We really respect their program. Coach Gouse is the elder statesman in our league and he’s a fantastic coach.
“At the end of the day, it’s Windber-Portage, and it’s one of the best rivalries we have.”
“Windber has a great following. They’re undefeated. They’ve got things turned around,” the Mustangs coach said. “It will be like the old days where you couldn’t find a place to stand in the stadium. That brings about a great atmosphere.
“We’re blessed to do that. The games are exciting. They mean something. We’re definitely looking for the opportunity.”
Blacklick Valley (0-2) at North Star (1-1)
Last meeting: Blacklick Valley 40, North Star 8.
Last week: Meyersdale 42, Blacklick Valley 7; Portage 65, North Star 14.
About the Vikings: Conference heavyweights Portage and Meyersdale combined to outscore Blacklick Valley 90-7 through two weeks. Nathan Schilling has a team-high 17 tackles and Isaac Thomas has 16 stops.
About the Cougars: North Star has lost six straight in the series, with the most recent victory over the Vikings coming in 2013. Ty Maluchnik has 207 rushing yards on 31 carries.
Meyersdale (2-0) at Shade (1-1)
Last meeting: Shade 48, Meyersdale 20.
Last week: Meyersdale 42, Blacklick Valley 7; Shade 48, Conemaugh Valley 28.
About the Red Raiders: Meyersdale has produced 91 points in two wins. The Red Raiders are looking for their first 3-0 start since 2015. Devin Kretchman has 195 rushing yards and 42 points on seven TDs.
About the Panthers: Shade reverted to its spread offense to get back on track with a 20-point road win last week. Vince Fyock ranked fourth in the area with 223 rushing yards. Braden Adams was fifth with 361 passing yards as Tyler Valine and Fyock combined for 11 catches and 280 yards.
Conemaugh Valley (0-2) at Conemaugh Township (0-2)
Last meeting: Conemaugh Township 50, Conemaugh Valley 6.
Last week: Shade 48, Conemaugh Valley 28; Berlin Brothersvalley 62, Conemaugh Township 21.
About the Blue Jays: Conemaugh Valley made progress while scoring 28 points last week after being shut out by North Star in Week 1. The Blue Jays churned out 363 rushing yards in Week 2, with Nick Heltzel gaining 151 and Logan Kent, 84.
About the Indians: Conemaugh Township has beaten Conemaugh Valley 12 consecutive times since the Blue Jays’ most recent victory in 2005. Jackson Byer, Tanner Shirley and Braden Goggin each had a touchdown last week.
Bedford (2-0) at Bishop McCort Catholic (1-1)
Last meeting: Bedford 40, Bishop McCort Catholic 14.
Last week: Bedford 41, Forest Hills 8; Bishop McCort Catholic 20, Somerset 7.
About the Bisons: Bedford netted 330 rushing yards last week and averaged 257.5 yards on the ground through two games. Elijah Cook has a team-high 176 rushing yards.
About the Crimson Crushers: Bishop McCort Catholic’s defense bent but didn’t break during the second half of Week 2, stopping Somerset on downs after two long drives. The Crimson Crushers “D” was on the field 16:35 in the half but only allowed seven points in the game.
Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic (1-1) vs. Cambria Heights (1-1), at St. Francis University
Last meeting: Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic 24, Cambria Heights 6.
Last week: Westmont Hilltop 27, Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic 7; Richland 48, Cambria Heights 0.
About the Marauders: Bishop Guilfoyle looks to bounce back after giving up 27 unanswered points at Westmont Hilltop. Keegan Myrick leads the team with 254 rushing yards, but was limited to 53 yards against the Hilltoppers last week.
About the Highlanders: Cambria Heights also hopes to rebound after a one-sided setback to LHAC power Richland.
Tyler Trybus ranks third in the area with 240 rushing yards on 40 carries.
Westmont Hilltop (1-1) at Central Cambria (2-0)
Last meeting: Westmont Hilltop 45, Central Cambria 6.
Last week: Westmont Hilltop 27, Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic 7; Central Cambria 55, Penn Cambria 22.
About the Hilltoppers: Westmont Hilltop averages 228.5 rushing yards a game, with three backs over 100 yards in Hudson Holbay (172), Zane Blackburn (130) and Mason Muto (124).
About the Red Devils: Central Cambria has forced 11 turnovers while going 2-0 for the first time since 2010. Luca Tsikalas leads the area with three interceptions. Dylan Long has 226 rushing yards and two TDs.
Somerset (0-2) at Chestnut Ridge (2-0)
Last meeting: Chestnut Ridge 41, Somerset 9.
Last week: Chestnut Ridge 42, Greater Johnstown 6; Bishop McCort Catholic 20, Somerset 7.
About the Golden Eagles: Somerset has been outscored 46-7 in two losses. The Golden Eagles had a 14-play, 80-yard scoring drive as Jarett Flitcraft had a 7-yard TD run and booted the extra point against the Crimson Crushers.
About the Lions: Quarterback Logan Pfister is third in the area with 378 passing yards, completing 20 of 24 attempts. Matt Whysong has eight catches for 162 yards for the Lions, who have outscored opponents 77-13.
Richland (2-0) vs. Forest Hills (0-2), at Windber Stadium
Last meeting: Richland 56, Forest Hills 27.
Last week: Richland 48, Cambria Heights 0; Bedford 41, Forest Hills 8.
About the Rams: Caleb Burke leads the area with 237 receiving yards on 11 catches. Kellan Stahl is second with 560 passing yards (29 of 45). Jacob Sabol ranks third with 22 tackles.
About the Rangers: The game will be played at a neutral site as work on Forest Hills’ new playing surface progresses. The Rangers want to avoid the program’s first 0-3 start since 2000 – the team finished 6-4. The last 0-2 start was in 2003 – Forest Hills went 9-3.
Penn Cambria (0-2) at Greater Johnstown (0-2)
Last meeting: Penn Cambria 37, Greater Johnstown 14.
Last week: Central Cambria 55, Penn Cambria 22; Chestnut Ridge 42, Greater Johnstown 6.
About the Panthers: Each team is looking for its first victory. Penn Cambria was plagued by seven turnovers in a Week 2 loss to Central Cambria with the Goal Post Trophy at stake.
About the Trojans: Greater Johnstown hopes to snap a 13-game losing streak dating to the final game in 2017. Sammy Barber has thrown for 335 yards (18 of 40). Anthony Reed has five catches for 149 yards.
Tyrone (0-2) at Bishop Carroll Catholic (2-0)
Last meeting: Tyrone 44, Bishop Carroll Catholic 7.
Last week: Central 12, Tyrone 7; Bishop Carroll Catholic 31, Fairfield 0.
About the Golden Eagles: Tyrone has a deceiving winless record after falling in double overtime to rival Bellwood-Antis (35-32) during Week 1 and allowing a touchdown with :02 left in a five-point loss to Central last week.
About the Huskies: Bishop Carroll Catholic rolled over Fairfield in Week 2 as Phil Woo took over coaching duties because coach Sean Billings was not with the team. Hunter Dumm had two TD runs as the Huskies opened 2-0 for the first time since 2010.
West Shamokin (0-2) at Northern Cambria (1-1)
Last meeting: Northern Cambria 36, West Shamokin 14.
Last week: Marion Center 49, West Shamokin 13; Saltsburg 35, Northern Cambria 24.
About the Wolves: West Shamokin’s Bo Swartz has passed for 249 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Jaiden Haswell has seven catches for 185 yards and three TDs.
About the Colts: Adam Kopera ran for a game-high 197 yards and scored two TDs in last week’s setback at Saltsburg. Isaac Noll had a 68-yard TD reception and ran for a 4-yard TD.
Berlin Brothersvalley (2-0) at Ferndale (0-2), 1 p.m.
Last meeting: Berlin Brothersvalley 38, Ferndale 0.
Last week: Berlin Brothersvalley 62, Conemaugh Township 21; Windber 48, Ferndale 14.
About the Mountaineers: Quarterbacks Will Spochart and Abe Countryman have combined to throw for 332 yards, six touchdowns and one interception in two victories. Spochart (187), Cole Blubaugh (137) and Holby McClucas (112) have combined for 436 rushing yards and six scores.
About the Yellow Jackets: Noah Korenoski leads Ferndale with 30 tackles and a fumble recovery. Tajahi Thomas had a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and Loghan Furfari ran four yards for a score last week.