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Portage outlasts North Star, officials, in Friday night thriller

Written by: on Saturday, October 18th, 2008

BOSWELL, Pa. – The game felt like a marathon. That’s because it was one.

Three hours and fifteen minutes long, 35 first downs, 751 yards of offense, 77 points, and even the officials left their mark, flagging Portage and North Star a combined 26 times for 268 yards.

In the end, it was the Mustangs who emerged from the stampede victorious.
Portage (8-0) ran for 382 yards behind stellar efforts from tailbacks Mike Sinosky and Tommy Burgan en route to a thrilling 42-35 victory over North Star (7-1) in Boswell on Friday night.

Sinosky and Burgan were responsible for doing most of the damage to the Cougar defense, accounting for 342 of the Mustangs’ 400 yards of total offense.

“You can’t be a running back without a great line,” said Burgan, who ran for 156 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries.

Sinosky echoed his teammate.

“When our linemen do a good job, everyone does a good job,” the Mustangs’ battering ram said. Sinosky ran for 186 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 23 carries.

Both efforts had to make Portage Area head coach Gary Gouse a very happy man.

“We have unbelievable backs,” Gouse said. Then, he stole a line from Burgan and Sinosky.
“And I thought our line did a pretty good job, too.”

But things weren’t just coming up roses for the Mustangs early on, as North Star took an 8-0 lead on the arm of senior Cory Kaltenbaugh, who hooked up with Lucas Zellam (4 rec., 78 yards, TD) for a 34-yard scoring strike.

The Cougars defense was equally impressive, limiting the high-flying Portage Wing-T to just 18 first quarter yards and one first down.

That changed in the second quarter when Sinosky burst through the line for a 58-yard score, knotting things up at 8. Five plays later, North Star took a 14-8 lead on a Richie Meehlieb 10-yard fullback draw play.

On the ensuing kickoff, Jared Pisarchik rumbled 70 yards for a 15-14 Portage lead. That 21-point burst came within 2:23.

“Their speed just kind of caught us a few times,” North Star head coach Stacy Schmitt said. “That’s what set us back tonight.”

But North Star was up 20-15 at the break, courtesy of a Zellam 10-yard scoring run, on, of all things, a triple reverse. The gadget play, though, was fitting, given how wild the game turned out to be.

The Cougars’ defense turned in a stellar first half effort, holding Portage to just 111 total yards (all rushing), and four first downs. That all changed after the break.

The fireworks began flying right out of the gate in the second half. Aided by a solid kickoff return, Burgan rumbled 17 yards before Pisarchik (43 rush yards, 18 receiving yards, 3 total TD) darted in from 23 yards out to make it 22-20.

North Star countered in just two plays, set up by a 73-yard kickoff return by Zellam. Kaltenbaugh (15-of-25, 291 yards, 3 TD, INT) found Austin Lyons (3 rec., 70 yards, TD) over the middle from 16 yards out to make it 28-22.

On Portage’s ensuing possession, Burgan took a scissors play 79 yards to paydirt, giving the Mustangs the lead for good at 29-28.

“It’s kind of tough to key on,” Schmitt said of the Portage ground game, which averaged 346 rush yards entering the game. “They really mix it up. It’s tough to key on one guy. They have a lot of weapons.”

Portage scored two more touchdowns to push its lead to 42-28 – Taylor Swires (1-of-5, 18 yards, TD, INT) found Pisarchik from 18 yards out to make it 36-28, then Sinoksy capped the Mustang scoring with an 11-yard run with 10:07 to play in the game.

“I thought our offensive coordinator, Larry McCabe, did a great job calling the plays tonight,” Gouse said. “They (North Star) played seven, eight, maybe 10 different defenses. We just countered with things after we knew what they were doing.”

North Star capped the game scoring with a nine yard touchdown pass from Kaltenbaugh to Donald Shaffer with 6:34 to play.

Portage took the remaining 6:34, gained three first downs, and ran out the clock on the game and North Star’s unblemished season record.

The potent North Star rushing trio of Meelheib, Josh Kuncher, and Mike Knisely was limited by the Portage defense to a combined 50 rushing yards on 21 attempts. For the game, the Cougars, which averaged over 230 rushing yards per game, were held to just 60 yards on 26 carries.

But by the same token, the Cougars’ Multiple-I offense scored 35 points on a stout Mustang defense. Portage’s worst defensive effort, in terms of points allowed before this game, was eight.

“They (Portage) just have a super defense – they have a lot of speed,” Schmitt said. “I was real pleased with our offense putting up that many points.”

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