Portland has been knocked out of the MHSAA football playoffs by the eventual state champion or runner-up six times in their history, and Raider fans can be forgiven if they thought that their Division 5 regional matchup at Flint Powers Catholic last Friday could be the seventh.
After all, the Chargers were the defending state champions, were ranked No. 1 all season, came into the game on a 19-game winning streak, having allowed 20 points total in their previous five games and were playing on their home field.
But Portland pulled off arguably the biggest win in the history of the program, 45-28. The Raiders trailed 28-14 early in the second half, but roared back with 31 unanswered points to run out with the memorable victory.
Portland’s comeback against Powers was the result of the team being much more balanced on offense than in years past. Tanner Allison threw touchdown passes of 56 and 48 yards in the third quarter to get the Raiders back in the game.
“We’ve been able to throw the football on most everyone this year, but we’re still a running football team,” Portland coach John Novara said. “We want to establish the run first, and when they start creeping up too far to stop the run, we throw over the top of them, and that’s what happened.”
With its first-ever regional title secured, Portland will face Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard at 1 p.m. on Saturday in Howell in its second state semifinal game in school history.
That’s right, second. In 1975, Portland was one of 16 teams who qualified for the postseason in the first year of the MHSAA football playoffs, which then consisted of four teams in each class. The Raiders lost to Ishpeming 32-6 in that semifinal, and the Hematites went on to win the first-ever Class C state championship.
With a win in the state semifinal, the Raiders would be the second team from the CAAC White to play in the Division 5 state championship game in the past two seasons. Last year, Portland’s league rival Lansing Catholic lost to Powers in the state final, and the coach of the Cougars offered a bit of moral support.
“I talked to Jim Ahern, and he gave me a great piece of advice,” Novara said.
“He said ‘don’t let Flint Powers beat you a week after you play them.’ That’s what we’re focused on right now, making sure that we don’t lose this game because we’re still thinking about Flint Powers.”
Thinking about the Gabriel Richard, this semifinal contest could very well be decided on the defensive side of the ball. The Fighting Irish come into the game having shut down the high-scoring offense of River Rouge, who went into its regional unbeaten and having scored an average of more than 49 points per game for the season but went out with a 16-6 loss.
“(Gabriel Richard is) a very solid football team,” Novara said.
“They really have no weaknesses. They have a great defense, a very good offence, good quarterback, several running backs. They really are a complete team.”
The winner in Howell will face either Menominee or Grand Rapids West Catholic for the Division 5 state championship at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 24, at Ford Field in Detroit.