Harper Creek experienced something in the first game of 2012 that it never experienced in the entire regular season last year – it lost a game.
Portage Central defeated Harper Creek, 36-32, in this Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference non-division contest on Friday at Harper Creek High School.
The Beavers had gone 9-0 last season, including a 24-0 win over Portage Central. But Harper Creek won’t have a perfect regular season this year, after the Mustangs rallied to get the win in the season opener.
“We start off on the wrong foot with this loss and consequently we have a lot to clean up,” Harper Creek coach Ed Greenman said. “This was a game we could’ve won. The way things were going in the first half, if we could’ve punched one more in there, it could have made the difference. But we made some big mistakes and let them back in it.”
Harper Creek dominated early and led 21-3 early in the second quarter. However, Portage Central didn’t go away and would score 14 unanswered points before halftime to cut the lead to 21-17. For the game, the Beavers failed to take control of the contest with two fumbles, an interception and several key penalties.
The Mustangs took that momentum into the second half and seemingly never gave it back.
“We got a good lead on them in the first half and let them back in the game,” Greenman said. “You can’t let a good team back in the ball game and we did and they proved to be tougher than us tonight.”
Portage Central eventually came all the way back to lead 29-24 on a 20-yard touchdown by DeJuan James with 11:48 left in the fourth quarter.
Harper Creek responded as Beaver running back Kasey Carson scored his fourth touchdown of the game from a yard out to give the home team a 32-29 lead with 6:38 left.
But Portage Central would steal the win as James scored from four yards out with :40 left to give the Mustangs their final lead, 36-32.
Harper Creek would get down inside the 30 in the final seconds, but couldn’t come out with the miracle finish.
“They jumped out early and we had to adjust to the game speed a little bit,” Portage Central coach Mick Enders said. “It went back and forth all night and we just got the last punch in there and luckily the clock ran out there at the end.”
The Mustangs’ James, who led the way for his team with 166 yards rushing and two touchdowns, thought his team came out with a strong effort the first game of the year.
“Last year, we’d get our heads down a bit in a game like this. But this year, we are out to fight until the end,” James said. “We have worked hard to get ready for this game. We thought they got a little tired and we got the momentum and I think they got down a bit at that point and that helped us win the game.”
Portage Central, who was playing without its University of Toledo-bound lineman Nate Jeppsen due to sickness, said part of the gameplan was to wear out Harper Creek, which started nine players on both sides of the ball.
“We knew going in, without Nate being in there, we’d have to play more uptempo. We were approaching the football with 20 seconds left on the clock each down, trying to push the pace. I think we were able to wear them down a bit,” Enders said.
Carson had 149 yards to lead Harper Creek to go with his four touchdowns. Connor Bauserman had 99 yards on the game. Jared Koerner led the Beavers with nine tackles with Trevor Stout getting seven stops.