Portland grinds out dominating win over Marine City in D5 semis, returning to Ford Field for the first time since 2012
HOWELL — Portland senior running back Owen Guilford went to his knees, holding his facemask with both hands after the final buzzer sounded for Saturday’s Division 5 semifinal game, then eventually got up, making the rounds of teammates to hug, still sobbing.
His coach, John Novara, teared up when explaining the love the town of Portland lavished on the Raiders in their send-off Saturday morning.
They were happy tears for both, though, as the Raiders had just stifled a very good Marine City team, 35-14, punching their ticket for Ford Field for the first time since 2012.
“Just happy. Happy for the kids and the work they put in,” Novara said, when asked to explain the tears in his eyes, noting that the feeling after the win was surreal.
“Very much. We left town today and there’s a …” he broke off, choking up. “Just a great community. We had a great send-off, and I think next week’s going to be an even bigger send-off. … We did this back in 2012 in the same spot. When the pairing came out and I knew we were going to play at Howell, I thought it was a great deal for us again. I know there’s a bunch of kids sitting up in that bleachers today with some nostalgia. I’m just so proud of this team. When we started working this summer, it doesn’t look like something you can do, but they just kept battling, working hard, and got us to this point where we’re going to the state finals again.”
As well as the Raiders traveled to Howell’s John Dukes Field, there will likely be even more maroon-clad fans at Ford Field on Saturday, when the Raiders (13-0) will take on Hudsonville Unity Christian (11-2) in the D5 title game, slated for 4:30 p.m.
“It’s amazing. We ran out there in 2012, and I didn’t think it would be very loud, it’s so big, but it got loud,” Novara recalled. “Our whole town will be down there supporting us. Just a great community, and great kids.”
The players themselves are looking forward to that moment.
“A dream come true,” senior Jacob Veale said. “I’ve tried (to envision it). But I think I’m going to get to experience it.”
Veale ran the ball 33 times for 133 yards and a pair of scores, while quarterback Owen Russell scored twice on 1-yard sneaks, and the Raiders amassed 313 rush yards.
But it was the addition of Guilford — who ran 13 times for 128 yards and a score — that was a bit of a wild card, after he’d been more or less just a blocker a week earlier.
“Owen blew that knee early on, and we’ve been working him back slowly. We put him in there to block, and everybody knew that. We thought we should hand him the ball a couple times. He had 100 yards, so that’s awesome for him,” Novara said of Guilford, who tore a meniscus in his knee, and missed all of the league season, from Week 3 to Week 7. “He’s a kid that has worked his tail off after hurting his knee early in the season. We thought we had something with him, because everybody’s going to cheat to where he is, because they know he’s going to block, so we thought we could run him a few times.”
Between those two key contributors and 61 more yards from Blake Meyers, the Raiders had the recipe for grinding out a win — which they methodically did.
In addition to outrushing Marine City by 218 yards, the Raiders controlled the clock, allowing the Mariners (10-3) just 39 total plays to their own 69, and possessing the ball for just slightly less than three full quarters of the game (33:53 to 14:07).
“Good teams do. I call it ‘The Slow Death.’ They just dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides, eat the clock. Great teams have a way of doing that in big games. Definitely they’re a team that we respect, and they showed why they’re 12-0 … 13-0 now,” Marine City coach Ron Glodich said. “It’s a physical difference. They have 300-pound linemen, and I have 180-pound linemen. You can only ask a man to do what he’s physically capable of doing. We start three seniors, and they start an abundance of seniors, and that showed, just in the physicality between the teams.”
The Mariners were able to punch with the Raiders for the opening quarter, but three turnovers — all fumbles, plus two interceptions negated by penalty — and a growing scoreboard deficit limited how much they could get going.
“We’ve got five seniors on our offensive line, and they just took care of things and let us run the football,” Novara said. “That’s what we try to do is run some time off the clock. We’re not a real dynamic offense, so we try to run some time off the clock and keep our defense off the field. The last couple weeks, we’ve been able to put together some decent drives.”
When that line pounds on a defense play after play, drive after drive, it can kill the will of the defenders.
“We come back to the huddle, and we’re going to run the same thing, because they can’t stop us, and that just pumps us up, gives us a lot of confidence,” Veale said. “As they start to hit not as hard every play, and the holes start to get bigger, we just get tougher.”
The Mariners answered Portland’s opening score with a 97-yard kick return for a touchdown by Angelo Patsalis, as the Marine City return squad ran the starburst play to perfection, springing Patsalis down the Portland sideline. The extra point was blocked.
“We were really worried about that kickoff. We thought we could get it into the end zone, and we didn’t. We’d seen it on film 100 times, so that’s why we kicked that short, pop-fly kick (after that). We thought we could get it into the end zone, and he was about 2 yards short. We just broke down a little bit on that play, but we knew it was coming, so that was a little disappointing,” Novara said. “Defensively, we played great tonight. It’s hard to see out on the field, but they have so many different formations, so many different plays, so many different blocking schemes that it was a really hard prep(aration). … I congratulated my defensive coordinator, Keith Schrauben, because he did a great job of getting them ready for the game.”
After Russell’s second quarterback sneak made it 14-6, Patsalis responded with another big play, with a 52-yard scamper on a counter play. Aren Sopfe ran in the 2-point conversion to tie it up, but Portland started pulling away almost immediately.
Guilford scored on a tackle-breaking 13-yard run, then the Raiders converted Marine City’s second fumble of the half into a 1-yard Veale touchdown with just over 20 seconds left before halftime, making the lead 28-14.
Veale’s 9-yard touchdown run on the first drive of the fourth quarter was the only scoring in the second half.
“The fact is, we knew we were only going to get so many possessions, and when you fumble it twice, and you have another fumble late in the game, you can’t win games like that against great teams when you turn the ball over,” Glodich said.
“As young as we are, there’s not one person in our community that gave us a chance to go to the semis. So it’s a small group of seniors that, through their will, got us to the semifinals, and we’re proud of our senior group, getting our program back where we think it belongs. … We return everybody but three starters, so we look forward to being back next year.”