PORTAGE - Portage coach Gary Gouse said that his team was treating Friday night's contest with visiting Blacklick Valley as its first playoff game of the year, and the Mustangs responded with a big second half and went on to a 12-0 victory in a battle of two WestPAC postseason contenders.
"Our defense played great," said Gouse, whose team improved to 5-1 on the season thanks to a stout defensive effort that limited the explosive Vikings (4-2) to just 146 total yards.
The Mustang game plan emphasized containing Blacklick Valley standout Johnny Sheesley, and Gouse's team executed the plan exactly as intended. Sheesley was held to just 30 yards on 17 carries.
"Our defensive end, Paul Husar, played a heck of a game containing Johnny Sheesley," Gouse said. "He's an outstanding athlete, and we bottled him up and didn't let him get loose."
The two high-scoring teams battled to a scoreless tie at halftime.
"We moved the ball a little on our first drive and last drive, but couldn't sustain anything for the whole game," said Blacklick Valley coach Bill Zamboni. "We let them drive the ball and milk the clock in the second half, and we have to find a way to do a better job defensively."
The Mustang ground game came alive in the second half, as Portage churned out 186 of its 303 total rushing yards over the final two quarters. Luke Dividock finished with a game-high 115 yards on 15 carries, while Caleb Kephart added 100 yards on 13 carries.
After the Mustangs wasted an opportunity to get on the board in the second quarter with a red-zone fumble following a 13-play, 81-yard drive, Portage needed just four plays to open the third quarter and grab the lead.
Mustang quarterback Evan Price found an opening around the left side and dashed 39 yards down the sideline for the first touchdown of the night at the 10:36 mark of the period, but the extra point attempt was blocked, keeping the lead at 6-0.
Another lengthy Portage drive went for nought early in the fourth as the Mustangs marched from their own 28 to the Blacklick Valley 3 before another fumble kept Portage out of the end zone and the Vikings in the game.
However, Blacklick failed to capitalize and went three-and-out. A short punt then put Portage in great field position at the Viking 23, and Caleb Kephart subsequently scored from 4 yards out with 5:31 left in the contest to put the Mustangs in control.
The Vikings engineered one more threat as four consecutive Sheesley pass completions covering 41 yards gave Blacklick Valley a first-and-goal at the Mustang 9 with nearly three minutes to play.
However, consecutive incompletions on third and fourth down kept the Vikings out of the end zone and allowed Portage to then run out the last 2:27 and preserve the win.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Blacklick Valley0 0 0 0 - 0
Portage0 0 6 6 - 12
P-Price 39 run (kick failed) 10:36
P-Ca. Kephart 4 run (run failed) 5:31
RUSHING: Blacklick Valley -Reigel 10-62, Worthington 3-minus 1, Sheesley 17-30. Portage-Price 13-61, Ca. Kephart 13-100, Co. Kephart 7-27, Dividock 15-115.
PASSING: Blacklick Valley-Sheesley 5-15-0-55. Portage-Price 2-8-0-10
RECEIVING: Blacklick Valley - Paul 3-39, Stutzman 1-14, Worthington 1-2. Portage - Miller 1-4, Dividock 1-6.