By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
DETROIT – Half of Portland’s division of the Capital Area Activities Conference has made it to the MHSAA Finals over the last three seasons.
So before bringing the Raiders to Ford Field this week, coach John Novara spoke with 2011 Division 5 runner-up coach Jim Ahern of Lansing Catholic, 2010 Division 4 runner-up coach Steve Kersten of Williamston, and a number of others who had occupied the spot he was about to step into Saturday afternoon.
They gave him plenty of advice. But one piece was offered by them all: Stay true to yourself and what you do.
Most of the Raiders’ 90 wins in Novara’s 14 seasons have been more a result of force over fancy: tough running and physical defense, with just a little flare mixed in. So it only seemed right that Portland’s first MHSAA football championship – and team title in any sport – would come with a semi-ugly 12-9 win over Grand Rapids West Catholic that did well in representing the legacy of those who brought the program to the brink.
“We worked hard just like they taught us, and they were in the weight room 24/7, and we looked up to those guys,” Portland senior guard/linebacker Adam Goodman said of his predecessors. “We all had brothers and sisters who went to this school, and we were close with the others guys. They told us to go in the weight room, and we listened to them. They set the foundation for Portland football.”
This is the 10th straight season Portland (13-1) finished with a winning record, but the first time it had won more than one playoff game. By also beating Flint Powers Catholic, the Raiders defeated both the 2011 and 2010 Division 5 champions on the way to this title. West Catholic was that 2010 champ – and beat Portland in the District Final that season.
In fact, three of Portland’s last four playoff losses came to teams that ended up at Ford Field.
“ We've been close every year,” Raiders senior guard/linebacker Dylan Carroll said. “We always face the state champion or runner-up every year, and we finally pulled through.”
The Final played out like much of Portland’s season. The defense, with 10 seniors, often set the tone as the offense – which should return eight starters in 2013 – learned on the fly. West Catholic (10-4) became the seventh opponent to score in single digits. But that was necessary; the Raiders scored their 12 points over the game’s first 15 minutes, and struggled to do much more during the final 23 as West Catholic held them to a season low.
“Our defense has been stepping up all throughout the playoffs, so we knew they were going to give us another chance to get something going on offense,” Falcons junior running back Andy Corey said. “We couldn’t ask for anything more.”
West Catholic’s first score didn't come until Corey’s eight-yard run with 1:02 to play in the third quarter. The other two points came on a safety 2:13 into the fourth. Total, West Catholic had 13 possessions. But three ended with interceptions and two more on turnovers on downs.
Still, the Falcons had one last opportunity to take the game during the final three minutes. After recovering a fumble at their 32-yard line and converting one fourth down, West Catholic had first down and goal to go from Portland’s 10.
But the Raiders stepped up this time, holding the Falcons to one yard total on three straight runs. After a five-yard penalty, West Catholic completed a screen pass that was stopped well short by Portland senior Jeffrey Feldpausch with 50 seconds to play.
“With the playmakers they have, you’re always wondering if you’re going to get them stopped one more time,” Novara said
Portland’s scores came on a one-yard run by junior quarterback Tanner Allison, and then one of the most memorable plays of Finals weekend. Allison took the snap at his 6-yard line, faked two handoffs and spun nearly all the way around as West Catholic tacklers began to pull him to the ground. Right before they succeeded, he launched a seemingly no-look pass into the left middle of the field that somehow got past everyone. Junior Auston Brandt ran under it and turned it into a 94-yard touchdown catch – the third longest in MHSAA Finals history.
“I saw the blitz. I knew the play was getting blown up right away,” Allison said. “I was getting tackled, and I was actually trying to throw the ball away, and he just happened to be there. I saw him, and I was just trying to throw the ball close, and out-throw him a little bit just to get the pass off.”
Allison completed 7 of 16 passes total for 214 yards, with four of those for 178 yards to Brandt. Corey ran 26 times for 146 yards, and sophomore quarterback Travis Russell completed 20 of 39 passes for 209 yards for the Falcons
Carroll had a game-high 13 tackles for Portland. Senior defensive back Joe Harmon had 11 tackles for West Catholic, and junior linebacker Max Boorsma had 10.
“When you take a group of football kids like we did this year – we had six sophomores who started for us, an entire new defensive coaching staff, a new offensive line coach, new running backs coach – and you kinda rally together and you end up playing in a state championship game, the entire coaching staff, the entire program did something right.” West Catholic coach Dan Rohn said. “We’ll be back. We set the goal in January to be back here, and we hope we will.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Portland football players hoist their Division 5 championship trophy after winning their first title Saturday. (Middle) Portland quarterback Tanner Allison (5) holds tight to the ball as Grand Rapids West Catholic tacklers begin to surround him. (Click for more from Terry McNamara Photography.)
Five showdowns of undefeated teams highlight this week's Michigan high school statewide schedule as we begin our second-half buildup toward the end of the regular season.
If you're not watching in person, check out most of the matchups highlighted below, and several others, on MHSAA.tv. Check in as well with the MHSAA Scores page for all of them as they come in. (Games below are Friday unless noted.)
Bay & Thumb
Croswell-Lexington (5-0) at Almont (5-0) - Watch
Just past halfway through the Blue Water Area Conference schedule, half the teams are 3-1 or 4-0 in league play – with these the co-leaders. Croswell-Lexington hasn’t played a game closer than 19 points this fall, but did lose last year’s meeting with Almont 37-26. The Raiders, meanwhile, have won the last two weeks by seven and one point, respectively – but opened the season with three straight shutouts as the stifling defense they’ve become known for has given up only 34 points total.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Lapeer (4-1) at Grand Blanc (3-2) - Watch, Linden (4-1) at Fenton (4-1) - Watch, Birch Run (4-1) at Freeland (5-0) - Watch, Madison Heights Lamphere (4-1) at Marine City (4-1).
Westland John Glenn (5-0) at Belleville (5-0) - Watch
Belleville’s 42-3 victory over Livonia Franklin last week was the team’s 30th straight, and the Tigers now own the state’s longest active winning streak with Powers North Central’s coming to an end at 41 on the same night. Belleville’s next challenger is John Glenn, which under second-year coach Jason Mensing has as many victories this fall as the last two combined and has nearly guaranteed its first winning season since 2014. Mensing guided his former team Ottawa Lake Whiteford through several memorable moments, and this will be the Rockets’ biggest so far under his leadership.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Gibraltar Carlson (4-1) at Trenton (4-1) - Watch, Romeo (3-2) at Macomb Dakota (4-1) - Watch, Lake Orion (5-0) at Rochester Adams (3-2) - Watch, Marine City Cardinal Mooney (3-2) at Clarkston Everest Collegiate (3-2) - Watch.
Goodrich (5-0) at Corunna (5-0) - Watch
The winner of this matchup clinches a share of the Flint Metro League Stars championship, similar to last season when Goodrich won the league and Corunna was second thanks to the Martians’ 42-7 win in their Week 5 matchup. Both arguably have been even better this fall. Goodrich has handed the only losses this season to Frankenmuth and Linden, and Corunna has given up only 31 points this season and no more than 17 in a game while scoring at least 38 every time out.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Evart (4-1) at Beal City (5-0) - Watch, Grand Ledge (5-0) at DeWitt (2-2) - Watch, Fowler (5-0) at Pewamo-Westphalia (4-1) - Watch, Montrose (4-1) at New Lothrop (4-1) - Watch.
Northern Lower Peninsula
Charlevoix (4-1) at Elk Rapids (2-3)
There’s more riding here than the initial glance my indicate. Charlevoix, with a win, would clinch a share of the Northern Michigan Football Conference Leaders title – its first since 2020 and after finishing second to Boyne City both of the past two seasons. The Rayders haven’t had a game closer than 13 points since falling to Traverse City St. Francis by one in their season opener. Elk Rapids got off to a tough start but has won two straight – both in shutouts – and is looking for its first win over Charlevoix since 2018.
Southeast & Border
Jackson (4-1) at Adrian (4-1) - Watch
Jackson has a chance to set up a Week 7 winner-take-all matchup with Chelsea for the Southeastern Conference White championship – a nice jump after finishing third last season. The Vikings haven’t defeated Chelsea since 2018 but lost by a respectable 17-0 last fall. But they can’t overlook Adrian, still enjoying its best season since 2016 despite falling to Chelsea 28-18 last week. The Maples would love to hand Jackson a loss tonight and cheer for the Vikings next week with a title share possible.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Michigan Center (4-1) at Grass Lake (4-1) - Watch, Flat Rock (4-1) at Milan (3-2) - Watch, Ann Arbor Huron (3-2) at Saline (5-0) - Watch, Hudson (5-0) at Blissfield (3-2) - Watch.
Parma Western (5-0) at Battle Creek Harper Creek (4-1)
We’re halfway through the Interstate 8 Athletic Conference schedule, and this has emerged as an important matchup with Parma Western tied with Hastings for first and Harper Creek only a game back after falling to the Saxons 34-6 last week. The Beavers struggled to 3-6 a year ago but already have avenged 2022 losses to Battle Creek Lakeview, Battle Creek Central and Marshall – and Western defeated them 34-0 last season before Harper Creek went 2-1 to finish the fall. Western’s defense is a notable strength again, giving up only 37 points total this season despite taking on Dearborn Divine Child and Detroit Country Day over the first two weeks.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Paw Paw (5-0) at Edwardsburg (3-2) - Watch, Constantine (4-1) at Allegan (4-1) - Watch, St. Joseph (3-2) at Portage Northern (5-0) - Watch, Muskegon Catholic Central (3-2) at Schoolcraft (4-1) - Watch.
Gladstone (4-1) at Menominee (5-0)
This is the first of three games that will tell a lot about Menominee’s season as the Maroons enter this stretch alone atop the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Copper at 4-0 but with Gladstone, Week 7 opponent Negaunee and Week 8 opponent Kingsford all 3-1 in league play. While this is a new conference for the Maroons this season, they have plenty of history with Gladstone as both came from the Great Northern Conference – and Menominee had won three straight in the series before Gladstone’s 28-6 victory last fall. Gladstone’s lone defeat this year came Week 3 to Kingsford, 35-12.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Maple City Glen Lake (3-2) at Sault Ste. Marie (3-2) - Watch, Manistique (3-2) at Iron Mountain (5-0) - Watch, Marquette (2-2) at Escanaba (1-4) - Watch, Houghton (2-3) at Calumet (1-4) - Watch.
Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (4-1) at East Grand Rapids (5-0)
We’ve been watching East Grand Rapids’ rejuvenation this fall with this among games circled for special attention, and Forest Hills Central’s 15-14 loss to Byron Center last week hardly lessens the intrigue. The Rangers are still among favorites statewide in Division 3, ranked No. 2, and East Grand Rapids is right behind them this week at No. 3 (while Byron Center is No. 2 in Division 2). The Ottawa-Kent Conference White title won’t be decided with this matchup, but it surely will be impacted – and the Rangers have defeated EGR all three times they’ve met since the Pioneers rejoined the division in 2020.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Allendale (5-0) at Spring Lake (4-1), Lowell (4-1) at Byron Center (5-0), Caledonia (4-1) at Hudsonville (4-1) - Watch, Zeeland East (4-1) at Muskegon (3-2).
Mendon (5-0) at Adrian Lenawee Christian (5-0) - Watch
Movement on the overall 8-player enrollment list have made this a matchup we’ll see just this once this fall, as Mendon – last year’s Division 2 runner-up – has moved to Division 1 and is ranked No. 2, while Lenawee Christian is top-ranked in Division 2 after winning Division 1 titles in 2020 and 2021 and reaching a Regional Final last year. Still, many 8-player eyes will be watching. The Cougars have given up just 32 points this season and no more than 12 in a game, and that defense should be part of the key matchup within the matchup because Mendon is scoring 52 per contest and coming off an 80-point performance.
Keep an eye on these FRIDAY Carson City-Crystal (5-0) at Coleman (4-1) - Watch, Brown City (5-0) at Mayville (5-0) - Watch, St. Ignace (5-0) at Newberry (4-1), Norway (4-1) at Ontonagon (4-1) - Watch.
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PHOTO Muskegon Catholic Central and Orchard View players reach to get a hand on the ball during their meeting this season. (Photo by Tim Reilly.)