Portage season ends at home
By Nate Ritchey
PORTAGE — Three weeks ago, Portage and Ferndale squared off in a Week 9 matchup with the Yellow Jackets taking the slight lead at halftime only to have the Mustangs come stampeding back to earn a blowout win.
The script appeared like it may be following the same storyline during Saturday night’s District 6 Class 1A quarterfinal game between the same schools as Ferndale clung to a two-point lead at the break.
Much like they did in the first meeting, Portage once again shut out the Jackets in the second half.
Unfortunately, for Portage, that’s where the similarities ended as the Mustangs, despite being able to move the ball, suffered some costly penalties and an inability to run the ball in the final two quarters as they too were held out of the end zone in a 14-12 season-ending setback at Portage Stadium.
“That’s why you play the game man. I give them (Ferndale) all the credit in the world. Their kids played their hearts out,” Portage coach Gary Gouse said. “We had our chances — we had penalties again in the red zone like we did the week before against Homer (Center). It just killed us … They played hard defensively — we didn’t block them. Our defense played their guts out and saved us but we just couldn’t answer the call. We ran up and down the field but didn’t get in the end zone.”
The Mustangs’ year came to a close with an 8-3 record, while the Yellow Jackets advance to play Homer Center in the semifinals with a 9-3 mark.
“Our mindset was a whole lot different coming out of this locker room than it was the last one,” Ferndale coach Don Robertson said. “It looked like the last time we played them we were deflated. I don’t know why. I don’t know if it’s because we played in the afternoon and the heat took us out, but these kids, for whatever reason, play so much better when they turn the lights on on Friday and Saturday night. I don’t know what it is … But I knew coming in here we had a better chance under the lights than we do at The Hive. I just knew that, and I knew our kids could play with these guys.”
After a second half filled with a lost Portage fumble (recovered by Noor Quraishay) that ended a promising drive and two more they were forced to punt the ball away on, the Mustangs defense did its job by turning the ball back over to the offense with one more chance to steal the game.
With 3:37 left, Portage took possession at their own 11, but were then backed up on an ineligible man down-field penalty to the 4. Zach Wiggins ran for 16 yards then fumbled the ball where Barry Crum picked it up and ran four more yards for the home team.
A few runs later and the Mustangs were facing a fourth-and-13 from their own 31 when quarterback Connor Price connected with Tom Randazzo on a 28-yard pass play that gave their team life at the Ferndale 41.
Price came up to the line and rather than spike the ball to stop the clock, he kneeled on it which not only lost a down but also kept the clock running. The signal caller ran for 7 and 1 yard on the next two downs to once again set-up a fourth down situation.
Unfortunately, for the Mustangs, Price’s pass intended for Randazzo was well defended and knocked away by the Yellow Jacket secondary to turn the ball back over to the visitors — who only needed to kneel twice to send them into the semifinal round.
“I wouldn’t have thought we would have won just scoring 14,” Robertson said. “Our defense, we lean on them all year. Everybody talks about Ferndale’s offense — I think they need to realize Ferndale has a pretty good defense.”
All the scoring came in the opening two quarters and both times Ferndale scored, Portage answered with a touchdown of its own.
The Mustangs punted to open the contest, and the Jackets took advantage by moving 76 yards in eight plays, helped out by a roughing the passer call on an incomplete pass by Ferndale quarterback Hunter Kinsey that would have forced a punt.
Kinsey, who completed three passes for 69 of those yards, hit a wide-open Nate Pudliner standing at the goal line for a 32-yard score at the 4:54 mark. Pudliner’s PAT went wide right to keep the score at 6-0.
“It was their (Ferndale) night. It really was. We stop them and then we have a personal foul, and they go down and score. Things like that just haunted us, you know. And they will in big games,” Gouse said. “… We’re right there to stop, we’re right there to score but we don’t. We just didn’t cash in. I’ve been coaching a long time, I’ll never figure that out. That’s just how it’s meant to be.”
Portage responded in typical fashion by running five plays — keyed by four carries from Tom Randazzo for 71 yards, including a 4-yarder for a TD that tied the game with 3:12 left in the opening stanza.
After a turnover on downs by the Yellow Jackets and a Portage punt by Price that went only 5 yards, Ferndale was set up at the P 25.
The entire 25-yard drive, with a 5-yard illegal shift penalty added on, was on the legs and arm of Kinsey as he ran for 9, 9, 7 and 1 yard runs, and then capped it off with a 4-yard strike to Brennan Mitchell with 4:30 showing on the clock. Kinsey would run for the two-point conversion that would ultimately spell the difference in the game.
Portage needed just two plays to find paydirt as Randazzo, who gained 127 yards on 17 chances, burst through for 30 and then Wiggins, who added 115 yards on 15 attempts, hit the opening for the 38-yard TD at the 4:01 mark. Logan Shaffer’s two-point run around the left side was denied to keep the score 14-12.
“It’s a great senior group we have — I’ll really miss them,” Gouse said. “They’re just a special group of kids that you don’t really get to coach too often in your life. That’s it for us, and good luck to Ferndale. We wish them all the luck in the world — they’re a WestPac team — so, represent the conference well.”
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Ferndale 6 8 0 0 — 14
Portage 6 6 0 0 — 12
F–Pudliner 32 pass from Kinsey (kick failed), 4:54.
P–Randazzo 4 run (run failed), 3:12.
F–Mitchell 4 pass from Kinsey (Kinsey run), 4:30.
P–Wiggins 38 run (run failed), 4:01.
RUSHING: Ferndale–Ribblet 2-(-3), Herring 6-4, Kinsey 14-25, Mitchell 1-4, TEAM 3-(3). Portage–Randazzo 17-127, Wiggins 15-115, Price 10-1, Shaffer 2-17, Oravecz 1-(-4), Crum 0-4, TEAM 1-(-2).
PASSING: Ferndale–Kinsey 16-26-0-133. Portage–Price 3-5-0-55.
RECEIVING: Ferndale–Ribblet 1-27, Herring 4-4, Pudliner 5-55, Mitchell 5-36, Rozier 1-11. Portage–McCabe 1-24, Randazzo 2-31.
INTERCEPTIONS: Ferndale–none. Portage–none.
TEAM STATISTICS F P
First downs 9 11
Rushes-yards 26-27 46-258
Passing (comp.-att.-int.) 16-26-0 3-5-0
Yards passing 133 55
Total yards 160 313
Fumbles-lost 1-0 3-1
Penalties-yards 3-14 7-72
Punts-avg. 4-26.8 4-17.3