Portland fans have been waiting a long time.
The Raiders have a long history of football success, but they have never played in a state championship game. Until today.
The Raiders (12-1) will play Grand Rapids West Catholic (10-3) at 4:30 p.m. at Ford Field in Detroit for the Division 5 crown.
“I’m excited for the town, the community,” Portland coach John Novara said. “The kids (have) played hard, fought through some injuries and bounced back all year long.”
Since the MHSAA playoffs began in 1975, statewide success has been elusive for Portland, including the six years in which Raiders had to face an eventual state finalist early in the postseason.
One of those six teams was West Catholic — today’s opponent. The Falcons knocked the Raiders out of the playoffs in the second round in 2010 on the way to the Division 5 championship.
A half-century ago, the Raiders had a three-year stretch in 1958-60 with a record of 26-1, including going a perfect 9-0 without having conceded a single point in 1959. They have posted three other undefeated seasons since then.
Portland junior quarterback Tanner Allison is familiar with the program’s history.
“We’ve always had a really good football team, but we always got (a tough draw) in the playoffs,” Allison said. “But this is finally the year we broke out and got by those really good teams.”
Now Portland is one of those really good teams.
The Raiders knocked off top-ranked and defending state champion Flint Powers Catholic in the regional round. Novara describes his team as “battle-tested,” and says that playing tough league opponents such as Williamston and Lansing Catholic — state finalists in 2010 and 2011 respectively — are sources of confidence for his players.
“This is the third year in a row that a team from the CAAC White has played in a state championship game,” Novara said. “We play in a tough league against tough competition, and we feel like we can play with anybody.”
Allison is dangerous as a runner and a passer for Portland. In the past two games, he’s thrown three touchdown passes, all of 35 yards or more, and also rushed for three TDs.
But Portland’s strength may be on defense, led by senior linebacker Adam Goodman. Goodman had three tackles for losses in the Raiders’ semifinal win over Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard last Saturday.
“He’s an emotional leader for us. He’s a great football player,” Novara said. “He’s been injured all year, battling through stuff. He’s just a heck of a football player. He just flies around and makes good plays.”
Defensive end Dylan Carroll and defensive back Logan Seal are other players to watch. Seal had key interceptions in Portland’s past two games, including one he returned for a touchdown against Powers.
“Our defense has to make plays for us, and they have all year long,” Novara said. “I have 10 seniors out there, and they fly around to the football.”
If Portland wins today, this will be its ninth one-loss season since 1950. One of those was in 1975, when the Raiders’ only defeat was to Ishpeming in the first-ever MHSAA football playoff tournament.
Portland has qualified for the playoffs a total of 14 times, but lost in the first round in the first nine. The Raiders’ 2007 loss to Allendale made them 0-9 all-time in the postseason.
But the Raiders have made another, better kind of history this season.