Prowling the Portage sideline and calling the shots, Mustangs’ coach Gary Gouse had not missed a high school football game for 22 years.
That streak came to an abrupt end last week prior to the Mustangs battle at Homer-Center.
“After my workout last Friday, I had a terrible pain,” said Gouse, who ended up going to the hospital for kidney stone surgery. “All the stories you hear about the pain are all true. I really wanted to be there at the game, but I was too groggy afterward to take over. Fortunately, I have a terrific staff that knew what to do and took over for me.”
Gouse begins a new streak this week, as the Mustangs host Northern Cambria in a District 6 Class A quarterfinal playoff game set for kickoff at 7 p.m.
Second-seeded Portage (9-1), which has won eight straight games since its Week 2 loss to Berlin, defeated the Wildcats 20-14 last week. The Colts
(7-3), the seventh seed, are coming off of an emotional Coal Bowl victory over Cambria Heights.
“We got a look at Northern Cambria on film and they have some great athletes,” Gouse said. “They have their core kids back from last year like quarterback Jeff Hogan and receiver Adam Polites and their running backs, all tough hard-nosed kids. They also have (Alex) Atkins, who is aggressive and very active. They’ve beaten Penns Manor and Cambria Heights so we know they are a great team.”
The Colts average 157.6 yards rushing and 118.7 passing per game.
Senior quarterback Jeff Hogan is 55 of 102 for 962 yards. Senior Adam Polites and senior Derek Bearer are the team’s top receivers. Polites has 17 catches for 472 yards and Bearer has 15 for 243 yards.
On the ground, senior Nate Zachesky has 90 carries for 485 yards while junior Dartagnan Suchar has 79 for 438 yards. On defense, Alex Atkins tops the team with 55 tackles.
“Alex is something special,” Northern Cambria coach Paul Taranto said. “You could see as a freshman that he was going to be a good player and he has dropped 20 or 30 pounds this season. He hopes to play at the next level so he goes out to every game as though it is a job interview. The team looks up to him and I’m glad he’s on my team.”
Portage has rushed for 303.2 yards were game and scored 29.7 a game.
Sophomore Caleb Kephart has 1,173 yards rushing on 98 carries to lead the Mustangs’ charge, but freshman Luke Dividock has added 644 yards on 91 carries. Senior quarterback Evan Price has contributed 447 yards on 87 carries and senior Cody Kephart, 334 yards on 48 carries.
Price is 35 of 67 passing for 406 yards. Tight end Joe Randozzo has eight catches for 101 yards.
On defense, Cody Kephart leads the team with 83 tackles.
“They have a good tough team and some excellent athletes,” Taranto said.
Both coaches have earmarked their critical points of importance in tonight’s game.
“We have to stay the course and do what got us here,” Gouse said. “The key for us is to be disciplined on defense and have our players take care of their own assignments. We have to keep the ball away from them and hopefully get the lead early and stay on the game plan.”
Taranto said his team has to avoid beating itself.
“We have to take care of the ball and not shoot ourselves in the foot with penalties and turnovers,” the Colts coach said. “When we’ve made mistakes, we’ve been resilient about bouncing back. We hope that we can give their defensive coordinator headaches and figure out how to stop them on offense.”
The teams last played in 1987, a 12-0 Colts win.
Tussey Mountain at Windber: The Titans’ and Ramblers’ last meeting was in the District 5 Class A playoffs in the 2005 title game, a 42-7 win for Windber.
Tonight’s District 5 Class A quarterfinal clash, set for kickoff at 7 p.m., has sixth-seeded Tussey Mountain at Windber Stadium to face the third-seeded Ramblers.
The Titans (5-5) won the last two games of the regular season, including last week’s 35-12 victory over another WestPAC squad, Meyersdale.
The Ramblers (8-2) are coming off one of their biggest victories of the season, a 28-20 win over Berlin Brothersvalley in Week 10. Windber earned a portion of the WestPAC title with the win.
Looking at the statistics, Tussey Mountain’s offense leans heavily on the run. The Titans average 258.5 yards per game running the ball and just 55.3 per game passing.
Junior Darrin Sipes tops the Titans in rushing with 118 carries for 967 yards. Senior Mitchell Corbin adds 678 yards on 88 carries and senior Tyler Husick has provided 552 yards on 124 carries.
Senior quarterback Eric Husick has thrown for 516 yards going 41 of 90. His top receiver is junior Lance Barnett, who has nine catches for 162 yards.
The Windber offense has been a bit more balanced with the Ramblers rushing for 234 yards a game and passing for 115 per contest.
Senior quarterback Dakota Gipe is 73 of 143 passing for 1,045 yards. Gipe distributes the ball well with four players having at least 100 yards in receptions.
Leading the way is junior Matt Barkley, who has 39 catches for 496 yards. Junior Dan Tomlinson has 14 receptions for 352 yards, senior Trevor Neri has seven for 180 and junior Devon Tomlinson, 13 catches for 115 yards.
On the ground, the Ramblers also spread the ball around. Junior Dustin Blough leads the way with 94 carries for 850 yards. Dan Tomlinson has 82 carries for 558, Neri had 47 for 353 and Devon Tomlinson 64 for 305 yards.
On defense, sophomore Jared Maurizio leads Windber in tackles with 45 solo stops. Dan Tomlinson has 44 stops and Devon Tomlinson has provided 42 tackles and seven interceptions.