T-D HS Football

Portage bolsters Dist. 6 playoff status, knocks Homer-Center from ranks of unbeatens


PORTAGE — Friday night’s regular-season finale between Homer-Center and Portage was also a possible District 6-A championship preview as the matchup featured two of the top three seeds in the playoff standings heading into the contest.
A large, enthusiastic crowd contributed to the postseason atmosphere, and the Mustangs used a balanced and efficient offense to knock off the previously unbeaten Heritage Conference champion Wildcats 35-19 and clinch home-field advantage in the opening round of the playoffs.
The Mustangs (8-1) put two rushers over the century mark as Caleb Kephart picked up a game-high 121 yards on 17 carries while teammate Luke Dividock added 114 yards on 12 carries. Both backs rushed for a touchdown, and Kephart also caught a scoring pass.
“They (Homer-Center) are a good offensive team, and we knew we had to respond,” said Mustang coach Gary Gouse. “Our offensive line did a great job, our backs ran hard, and (quarterback) Michael Bryja put the ball exactly where it had to be.”
Bryja completed all eight of his passes in the first half and finished 11 of 13 for 98 yards and one touchdown while also rushing for another score.
“You can’t play defense the way we did against a team with the backs they have,” said Wildcat coach Greg Page. “They killed us with big plays. We moved the ball but just couldn’t stop them.”
Homer-Center (9-1) kept the ball for nearly six minutes on a 13-play opening drive before Portage’s Joe Randazzo picked off a tipped pass by the Wildcats’ Aaron Berezansky. Portage answered with a 10-play, 76-yard march highlighted by four Bryja completions covering 48 yards. A 14-yard strike to C.W. Miller set up Dividock’s 8-yard touchdown run, and Nick Lutz’s PAT made it 7-0 late in the first quarter.
After a Wildcat three-and-out, Dividock’s 28-yard bolt and a 20-yard toss from Bryja to Miller set up Bryja’s 4-yard scoring pass to Kephart at the 9:57 mark of the second.
Homer-Center came right back with a 12-play, 73-yard drive capped off by Matt McAdoo’s 1-yard touchdown run. Ean Lee’s extra point cut the Wildcat deficit in half at 14-7.
Dividock again broke loose for a 43-yard gain on the ensuing series, leading to Kephart’s 6-yard touchdown run with 2:11 left that put the Mustangs up 14 at the break.
Portage capitalized on a huge Wildcats turnover early in the third. The Mustangs were forced to punt on their initial possession, but the return was muffed and recovered by Portage at the Homer-Center 21. Five plays later Bryja snuck in from the 1 to make it 28-7.
Berezansky returned the ensuing kickoff 67 yards to set up McAdoo’s second touchdown of the night, a 2-yard run that pulled Homer-Center within 15 heading into the fourth.
However, Kephart carried three times for 51 yards on an early fourth quarter drive that was finished by Joe Randazzo’s 1-yard run that built the Mustang lead to 35-13 at the 7:19 mark.
Anthony Caruso added a late 1-yard score for the Wildcats to set the eventual final.
“I’m proud of our seniors,” Gouse said. “We represented the WestPAC well, and we’re glad to get to host a home playoff game.”