Most football coaches tell their players to forget about last week.
Portage’s Gary Gouse advised his Mustangs to forget about their game two weeks ago.
That’s when Portage beat Blairsville 38-6 in a nonconference road game.
The Mustangs and Bobcats will meet again tonight at Portage Stadium, only much more will be at stake in this District 6 Class A playoff game.
“I told the kids to play them like we never played them before,” said Gouse, whose team jumped into the top seed in 6-A via its 35-19 victory over previously undefeated Heritage Conference champion Homer-Center last week. “It’s a new season. We tried to start it as fresh as we could.”
The Mustangs are 8-1, while the Bobcats are 6-4 after rebounding to wallop Moshannon Valley 40-19 last week.
“We know they’re athletic. They have a good quarterback and some receivers, a good runner,” Gouse said of Blairsville. “We played them (in Week 9). It’s crazy that we’re playing them again. That’s your opponent and you have to get through it.”
Blairsville junior quarterback Scott Thompson has thrown for 1,013 yards, seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions while playing only seven games. Junior running back Deion Robinson has rushed for 1,130 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Robinson also has 26 catches for 308 yards and a score, and Cameron Livingston has 23 catches for 335 yards.
The Mustangs have their own stable of playmakers beginning with running backs Caleb Kephart (1,214 yards, 15 touchdowns) and Luke Dividock (757 yards, seven touchdowns).
Junior quarterback Michael Bryja has thrown for 848 yards and 11 scores.
“Last week we really peaked,” Gouse said. “Mike was 9 for 13 passing, and he hit his first nine passes. That opens up the running game so much more. I think that just puts a lot of pressure on a defense when you can do that. It surely showed this year.”
Another reason the Mustangs have rushed for 2,619 yards is the cohesive offensive line of center Joe Beyer, guards Kyle Davis and Joe Krisko, and tackles Brandon Vocco and Elliott Bass.
“They’re the heart and soul,” Gouse said. “They move people up front.”
The 6-A field also includes tonight’s game between No. 7 Juniata Valley at No. 2 Homer-Center.
Saturday’s games in 6-A are No. 5 Bishop Guilfoyle at No. 4 Penns Manor and No. 6 Bishop Carroll at No. 3 Bellwood-Antis.
Tonight’s other games involving area teams:
Ligonier Valley (8) at Richland (1)
Undefeated Richland will begin defense of its 6-AA title against a reeling eighth-seeded Ligonier Valley squad that won its first six games but lost its past four.
Richland is a veteran, playoff-tested unit.
“These kids have played a lot of football,” coach Brandon Bailey said. “They played 13 games as sophomores, 15 games last year and 10 this year. These kids have already played nearly 40 football games. That experience is invaluable when we face adversity.”
Ligonier Valley is making its fifth consecutive district playoff appearance. In 2011, Richland beat Ligonier Valley 50-22 in the 6-AA playoffs.
“Ligonier is a solid program. They’ve been a playoff team for several years now,” Bailey said. “They’re struggling right now. We’re preparing for the six-straight win team because that team can show up at any moment.”
Forest Hills (7) at Mount Union (2)
Forest Hills has dealt with uncertainty due to injuries throughout a 6-4 season. This week, the Rangers are waiting to see if junior quarterback Joe Donoughe will be ready tonight against No. 2 seed Mount Union.
“Joe is going to be a game-time decision,” Forest Hills coach Don Bailey said.
Last week when Donoughe was injured in a 34-7 win at Philipsburg-Osceola, senior receiver Tyler Shima moved behind center and completed 7 of 15 passes for 129 yards while rushing four times for 28 yards.
“Tyler stepped in and did a great job last week,” Don Bailey said. “We have confidence in Tyler if he has to play. We’ve persevered and been resilient despite injuries all year.”
Mount Union relies on quarterback Trevon Walker, who has thrown for 1,217 yards and 19 touchdowns, and back Dylan Smith, who has rushed for 767 yards and 14 scores.
“Mount Union has a very explosive offense,” Don Bailey said. “They have a lot of speed, and a lot of athleticism.”
Saturday’s 6-AA games are: No. 5 Bald Eagle Area at No. 4 Tyrone; and No. 6 Central Cambria at No. 3 Central.
Greater Johnstown (4) at Clearfield (1)
Greater Johnstown has lost three straight and six of its past seven games, but coach Tony Penna Jr. views this Class AAA playoff appearance as an opportunity for his players.
“It’s always a fantastic experience,” Penna said. “The young kids are getting a ton of experience. On top of that we get another week of practice and you have an opportunity to win.
“We’re not there just to enter the playoffs. We feel we’re a dangerous team and we haven’t put together our best game yet.”
Clearfield is 10-0 and has rushed for 3,426 yards and 52 touchdowns, with Christian Lezzer leading the way with 1,431 yards and 27 scores.
Somerset (3) at University Prep (2)
Somerset’s defense allowed only two points in a Week 10 win over Penn Cambria.
The last three weeks, the Golden Eagles have given up a combined 31 points.
Coach Bob Landis’ team will need a stout defense against
No. 2 University Park, a 7-0 team that is coming off a 33-20 win over Allderdice in the Pittsburgh City Championship last week.
The District 8 team has outscored opponents by a combined 290-91.
Last season, University Prep defeated Somerset 47-38 in the sub-regional playoffs. The Golden Eagles are looking for their first district playoff win since 1989 (Penn Cambria 20-12).
North Star (6) at Tussey Mountain (3)
North Star looks to rebound after a stunning 10-0 loss at Conemaugh Township in Week 10.
Thomas Miller leads the 6-4 Cougars with 1,265 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. North Star averages 187.3 rushing yards a game.
Tussey Mountain is 8-2 with seven wins in its past eight games, including a 27-13 victory at Meyersdale last week. Quinn Barnett passed for 1,162 yards. The Titans have a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in Darrin Sipes, with 1,270 yards and 13 scores, and Daniel Taylor, with 1,025 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Shade (7) at Northern Bedford (2)
The 5-5 Panthers need an upset to secure the program’s first District 5 playoff victory.
Shade beat Allegheny-Clarion Valley 20-7 on the road last week and edged Marion Center 13-6 in Week 8. In between those games, the Panthers nearly upset Meyersdale in a 21-20 loss.
Northern Bedford is 8-2 and looking for the program’s first
5-A crown since 1995. Senior quarterback Blake Over has completed 161 of 258 passes for 2,360 yards, 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He’s also rushed for 572 yards and 12 scores. Jacob Dasher (876 yards, nine TDs) and Kyler Diehl (737 yards, 10 TDs) are receiving threats.
Also in 5-A, Berlin has a bye, and Saturday’s game is No. 5 Windber at No. 4 Meyersdale.
Westinghouse (4) at Chestnut Ridge (1)
The top-seeded Lions’ grueling independent schedule is paying dividends. Chestnut Ridge beat rival Bedford 27-21 last week to take the top seed.
Chestnut Rigde has rushed for 2,076 yards, a 207.6 average per game, with Matt Wiley’s 872 yards, and Beau Bosch’s 639 yards leading the way.
Westinghouse is 1-8. The Bulldogs haven’t won since August, a 40-0 season-opening victory over Buckeye Local.
Saturday’s 5-8-AA game is No. 3 Everett at No. 2 Bedford.
Most football coaches tell their players to forget about last week.