Portage’s Caleb Kephart was a man on a mission Friday night against host Meyersdale.
The Mustangs running back rushed for 255 yards and scored three touchdowns to help lead Portage to a 43-28 victory over the previously unbeaten Red Raiders.
“Caleb was possessed,” Mustangs coach Gary Gouse said. “He was not going to be denied. There were so many crazy things in this game on this field. I can’t even count them. It was a battle. Our kids just really, really came to play and I’m really proud of them. You love to win games like this.”
Kephart said that the team worked together to get the win.
“We haven’t won here in 10 years,” Kephart said. “We wanted to work really hard to beat Meyersdale.
“I was able to run the ball because of the great blocks by the linemen and the other backs. Everyone was working hard as a unit. We all have a responsibility to take care of and when we need something big, whoever’s number gets called is able to step up.”
Kephart set the tone on the Mustang’s first play from scrimmage, rambling 86 yards down the right side of the field, leaving numerous Red Raiders in his wake to score just 23 seconds into the game. Nick Lutz kicked the first of his five extra points to put Portage (3-1) ahead 7-0.
Meyersdale (3-1) answered right back with a Brandon Baer kick return to the Mustangs 20. Six plays later Ty Hoover scored and Austin Miller kicked the extra point to even the game.
After Portage went three and out on its next possession, Meyersdale took the punt return near midfield. The Red Raiders put together a nine-play drive capped by a Gavin Berkley 1-yard run to take the lead.
Portage responded with a four-play drive with quarterback Michael Bryja finding Joe Randazzo for the 41-yard touchdown. The kick was blocked but Kephart alertly picked the ball up and ran into the end zone for the conversion and a 15-14 advantage which the Mustangs never relinquished.
“Bryja did a great job, our line did a great job,” Gouse said. “We had pass protection and a lot of time to throw. We just did a lot of good things offensively. I think our whole offense played a big part in the win.”
Meyersdale turned the ball over on downs on its next possession and Portage started its next drive from the Red Raiders 22.
Seven plays later, Bryja snuck over from the 1 and Portage went ahead 22-14.
The Red Raiders special teams came up big again on the ensuing kickoff as Clark took the ball and dashed 85 yards for the touchdown to pull Meyersdale to 22-20.
“Our special teams all season has been setting up our offense in great field position,” Meyersdale coach Chris Schrock said.
“Our average starting spot coming into this game was the other team’s 41.”
Portage put together one last drive before halftime, moving 71 yards on 11 plays capped by a 14-yard Kephart score for a 29-20 lead.
Kephart then picked off a Lance Leydig pass to end Meyersdale’s threat as the half ended.
The Mustangs added another Kephart touchdown at the end of the third quarter, this one on an 11-yard run for a 36-20 lead.
“He was all we could handle and then some,” Schrock said about Kephart. “He had a heck of a game and to his credit he ran the ball very, very hard. We had him several times for losses and he just kept breaking tackles. I think he wanted the victory a little bit more than anybody else on this field.”
Meyersdale showed no quitting, putting together a nine-play drive ending with a 6-yard Clark run. Leydig hit Miller for the conversion pass to pull the Red Raiders within eight, 36-20 with 8:15 remaining.
Kephart broke the Raiders back late in the fourth when on a fourth and short, he broke free after being trapped in his own backfield and took the ball 42 yards down to the 13.
Four plays later, Bryja put the game on ice with another quarterback sneak.
Berkley finished with 79 yards for the Raiders, who play Ferndale next week.
“The defense played well in the second half where we got some really big stops,” said Gouse, whose team is off next week.
Cory Isenberg is a sports reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/CoryIsenbergTD.