Raiders’ state title the first in any sport
BY DAN STICKRADT
DETROIT — Portland has run into many roadblocks in recent years on the grid iron. The Raiders have lost to seven schools that have reached the Final Four over the past eight football seasons.
In fact, that group of opponents includes two state champions, two state runner-up teams and three state semifinalists.
Portland, honorable mention in the final regular season rankings, finally cleared all hurdles this season and that culminated with a 12-9 victory over Grand Rapids West Catholic in the Division 5 state finals Saturday at Ford Field in Detroit.
The win not only gave the Raiders their first state title in football, but its first state title in any sanctioned sport by the MHSAA. The boys golf program had collected four state runner-up trophies dating back to the 1940s, while the school has had an assortment of top-10 team finishes in a variety of sports.
“At the beginning of the year, I wasn’t even sure that this would be possible,” said Portland coach John Novara. “We knew we had a great group of kids coming back. But we have not been able to get very far over the years.”
Portland reached the state semifinals in 1975, when there were only four classes of eight schools each. Despite qualifying every year since 2003, the Raiders have not been able to sneak past the district finals. State-ranked teams have always been in the Raiders’ path.
Senior-laden Portland, which started 10 seniors on defense and seven on offense, never trailed in the contest, scoring a touchdown in both the first and second quarter. the Raiders missed the extra points on both scores.
Portland’s defense did the rest, allowing West Catholic’s offense to score only one touchdown. The Falcons’ other points came on a safety, while Portland caused a pair of turnovers in the contest.
“I knew we had to create some turnovers,” said Novara. “We knew we had to create turnovers and get the ball back to our offense. We were able to make a couple big plays early and just hold on from there.
“Our defense came through for us on several occasions,” continued Novara. “We know what type of team they were. We played them (in the districts) two years ago and knew what they are capable of doing.”
Unranked West Catholic opted not to kick a field goal with 50 seconds left in fourth quarter and was stopped cold on fourth down on the Portland 12. The points would have forged a tie and likely overtime.
“We have a young kicker and we’ve had chances to kick field goals (in the postseason) and we weren’t able to (convert),” said Rohn. “We decided to go for it.”
Tanner Allison’s 1-yard plunge put Portland into pole position with a 6-0 lead with 4:27 left in the first quarter. Allison collected 214 passing yards on a 7-for-16 performance and added 45 yards on 12 carries for the Raiders.
The Raiders (13-1) upped the advantage to 12-0 when Auston Brandt hauled in a 94-yard toss from Allison after Allison was nearly sacked in the backfield. The play proved to be the game winner.
“(Allison) made an amazing play, a 94-yd TD when he’s down for a sack,” said West Catholic coach Dan Rohn.
West Catholic, which began the season 1-3 before reeling off nine straight wins to reach the state finals for the second time in three years, slowly clawed back. Andy Corey’s 8-yard run with 1:02 left in the second quarter closed the gap down to five points at the half.
Mitch Stanitzek’s sack for a safety with 9:47 left in the contest brought the Falcons to within three points at 12-9. West Catholic (10-4) threatened but could not score again down the stretch.
Travis Russell finished 20-for-39 passing for 208 yards, while Corey added 146 yards on 26 carries for West Catholic.
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