One team didn't have its quarterback to start the season and the other certainly isn't known for having a prolific passing game.
But Friday when fifth-seeded Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic travels to top-seeded Portage for a District 6 Class A high school football semifinal game, the contest may be decided by how Marauders' quarterback Brandon Chadbourn and Mustangs' QB Michael Bryja play.
"Bryja makes Portage a complete football team, and this is going to be a battle," Bishop Guilfoyle coach Justin Wheeler said. "Both teams are playing really well, and both teams have quarterbacks that can run and throw."
Mirror file photo by J.D. Cavrich
Portage’s C.W. Miller (8) and Joe Randazzo could be vital in the Mustangs’ passing vs. BG.
Portage (9-1) has had plenty of success in the regular season over the past decade but has struggled in the playoffs while being known as a run-first program.
"Michael is having a great year and is on fire lately," Portage coach Gary Gouse said. "Teams haven't been able to load the box up against the running game, and he's been a good leader on the field by keeping the offense calm.
"In the past, we couldn't score points in playoff games, because all we did is run."
Bryja is 58-for-102 and has thrown for 974 yards and 12 touchdowns this season but has been even better lately. In the final game of the regular season against Homer-Center, the third seed in the Class A playoffs which will play Bishop Carroll in the other semifinal Saturday, Bryja was 11-for-13 with 98 yards and a touchdown. During Portage's playoff opener this past Friday, the 6-foot-3 junior was 6-for-8 with 137 yards and another touchdown.
"The more we pass, the more it helps the run game," Portage running back Caleb Kephart said. "When we have both going well together, we are tough. We finally have a quarterback who can throw the ball, and it really helps us."
Kephart benefited more than anyone from Bryja's success through the air Friday, rushing 15 times for 175 yards. For the season, the junior running back has 144 carries for 1,337 yards.
"A couple things jump out at you when you watch Portage," Wheeler said. "You have to stop their best kids. Kephart is very explosive and they also have a fullback [Luke Dividock] who runs great traps. That gives them dual threats on the inside and outside, and their quarterback is really accurate."
The Bishop Guilfoyle defense won't be the only squad that is tested Friday.
Portage will have to deal with a dual threat as well - though it will come from one player.
Chadbourn leads the Marauders in rushing (124 carries, 841 yards, 11 TDs) and passing (51-of-82, 763 yards, 8 TDs).
"[Bishop Guilfoyle] has a great quarterback," Gouse said. "Chadbourn seems to be the heart and soul of the team. We have to limit him as much as we can. They also have a solid defense with big, quick and athletic kids."
The Marauders (9-2) began the season without Chadbourn at quarterback as the 6-foot-1 junior was playing through an injury and with a cast. Guilfoyle dropped consecutive games to Bedford and Richland and entered the third week of the season needing a boost. After a victory at Cambria Heights, the Marauders got their spark when Chadbourn returned at quarterback against Forest Hills and BG won, 40-14. BG is currently enjoying a nine-game winning streak.
"[Chadbourn] is a dual threat kid, and he's the fastest kid on our team," Wheeler said. "He's a great running back, and when you balance that with his ability to run the ball, he puts a lot of pressure on the defense."
Gouse also credited Chadbourn for his speed but hopes the switch from Mansion Park's turf to Portage Area Stadium's grass will help.
"It's a huge advantage playing at home," Kephart said. "Most schools aren't used to a huge crowd, and our place is always packed. It's a close-knit community and they love football."
Wheeler knows playing on the road in a closely-matched game puts his team at a disadvantage.
"On paper, this is going to be a good game," Wheeler said. "We are probably the underdog, but that's OK. We like that role, and we'll go out and try to get the win this week."