Portland head coach John Novara had one constant message for his players all week in preparation of the school’s first-ever trip to the football state final at Ford Field.
“That means play fast, physical and go hard all the way,” Novara said before the game.
The Raiders showed numerous examples of all three on their way to a 12-9 win and the Division 5 crown.
How about a touchdown reception at 9:33 of the second quarter by Auston Brandt, who sprinted past the West Catholic defense for 94-yards — the third longest pass for TD in finals history — for a 12-0 lead — or defensive back Logan Seal sprinting to knock down a long bomb to a West Catholic receiver that had 82-yard touchdown written all over it. Seal also made his third consecutive interception in as many playoff games.
“I rely on my speed a little bit, but I give so much credit to their defensive backs who hung with me and made plays,” Brandt said. He finished with four catches for 178 yards and had a 65-yard touchdown called back for stepping out of bounds.
On a second-quarter West Catholic possession, Randall Gensterblum dove for an overthrown pass to secure an interception at the Portland 33 yard line. And in the third, 6-foot-5, 230-pound Dylan Carroll did not give up by chasing down GRWC running back Andy Corey and ending his 37-yard carry at the 6-yard line.
“I just went out there and played my game,” said Carroll, who converted from tight end last year to give the defensive line more strength and speed. “Tried to go 100 percent and I wasn’t going to go without a state championship this year.”
Including that first and goal at the 6, Portland kept West Catholic from scoring three times after the Falcons reached the red zone.
The biggest stop came with fourth and goal at the 14 with 58 seconds remaining in the contest. Portland’s Jared Krausz — a converted cross country runner playing nose guard — blitzed quarterback Travis Russell. While the pressured-pass was completed to David Bancuk, the West Catholic wide receiver was quickly cut down by Jeffrey Feldpaush and Carroll at the 12 yard-line to seal the Portland win.
“It was very physical, and that’s what we expected,” said West Catholic coach Dan Rohn. “We played Portland in 2010, (the year) we won the state championship, and I’ve been saying all week that’s the most physical team we played in 2010, and it’s the same today.”
As the score indicated, Portland (13-1) and West Catholic (10-4) played nearly identical football, with the Raiders earning 345 yards total offense to West Catholic’s 350.
“They are a great football team and they had some chances there, we were just one up on them at the end,” Novara said.
“That was a huge play (stopping the touchdown at the 6) but he’s got a great motor and he flies around,” Novara added about Carroll’s game-leading effort of 13 tackles on defense. “We’re a much quicker defense than last year and I think our athleticism paid off tonight.
“In my mind right now I’m thinking we don’t want to get complacent,” he said about the long term. “They always say once you get there, that’s the easy part, staying there is the hard part. So we’ll talk to the kids after we relish this win a little and talk to the kids about what got us here and continue those things and maybe add to it a little bit.”