PORTAGE — Since scoring 46 points in a season-opening win, it’s been a tumultuous road for the Portage offense, which accumulated only 59 points over what's been seven straight losses..
“It’s been tough,” Portage coach Terry Chestovich said. “Our kids have been fighting and practicing hard and doing the things that we want them to do. We just haven’t been able to turn that corner in the game and on the scoreboard.”
Senior Colton Wilkie, who started the season as quarterback, went down in Week 4 against Merrillville. This opened the door for freshman Kodie Young – a signal caller held in high regard by the program. Young played the second half of that game and has started every game since and Friday’s season finale against La Porte proved to be his best yet.
After missing his first pass of the night, Young went on to complete his next 10. He finished 13-for-19 for a career-high 236 yards and with two TDs as Portage snapped its losing streak with a 28-6 win over La Porte at The Warpath.
“With Colton getting hurt early, we went with the freshman and when he came back it’s like, ‘well, we may as well stick with it and see what happens,’” Chestovich said. “He’s starting to understand the things that we’re doing, which is nice. He probably still doesn’t like to get yelled at, which is gonna happen, but he’s gonna be really good for us and it was nice for him to be able to see that himself.
“We kept him up here on varsity with us to coach him and knowing that you know, he’s gonna be the next dude. All those trees that are in front of him, they’re starting to part a little bit and he’s starting to be able to see some things and that’s a good thing for him.”
Portage (2-7, 1-6 Duneland Athletic Conference) poured on 374 total yards of offense, rushing for 138 yards, including a pair of runners over 50 yards in seniors Terrell Craft and Keenan Miller.
Jojo Mabon caught four passes for 80 yards and a touchdown in Friday's Portage win over La Porte. (Photo by Susan Anglin)
“We’ve kind of found an identity now,” Chestovich said. “I do think that we’re way better than we were last year. The record’s the same, but the mentality and how we play and what we do is different.
“It’s nice for those guys to be able to come out and see some fruits to their labor.”
Craft opened the game’s scoring with a seven-yard TD run on fourth and goal in the opening minute of the second quarter. He also had three catches for 85 yards, including a 57-yard score from Young on a fingertip grab, putting Portage up three scores with thirty seconds left in the first half.
Sophomore Jojo Mabon had four grabs for 80 yards and a 36-yard score sandwiched between the Craft TDs. Wilkie snagged five for 36 yards.
“We’re feeling really good, it’s a good one to take into sectionals and we’re all really hyped in there in the locker room,” Young said. “We were working together well offensively and I was just reading my keys and then finding guys quickly. Both touchdowns were up the seam, we wanted to hit them vertically like that and guys were out there getting open for me and I just had to make the throws.”
Following a career-game, albeit one that’s spanned five starts, Young believes he’s found his footing.
“I feel better now,” Young said. “I’ve been getting used to it. It was a lot at first, but now it seems a lot more normal.
“The biggest adjustment was just how fast everything went – like it was really fast. It was so much faster than how middle school was, but yeah, I’m feeling I’m getting a lot better.”
La Porte (2-7, 2-5) has lost its last three games against Portage, with a pair of those coming off the back of a win over county rival Michigan City.
“We were flat, I’m sure you saw it,” La Porte coach Bob James said. “You don’t wanna make excuses but I am making excuses. our QB (Dylan Salisbury) missed two practices sicker than a dog and our outside linebacker (Javelle Broome) was the same way, and they came to school in the second half of the day so they can play. (Dylan) did need to play a better game, but we couldn’t get it out of our own end and we were stuck back against the wind there.”
The Slicers had just 142 yards of offense, scoring in the fourth on a six-yard pass from Salisbury to Tommy Samuelson.
“We couldn’t get anything going and then there’s that gruesome injury to (Tre’) Beghtel and we’re hoping there’s no broken bones or anything, and that brings you down a little bit,” James said. “We came out flat. Our defensive coordinator (Grant Seaburg) hollered at the kids at halftime and said, ‘You guys were flat in warmups and that’s how you’ve played the game.’”
“It happens here all the time. We can’t play well over here. I told the kids all week that Portage isn’t gonna lay down and they’re gonna play hard and kudos to Terry and his staff, they did a nice job.”
Each will have two weeks to prepare for its next game when postseason gets underway with La Porte playing host to Valparaiso and Portage to undefeated Crown Point.
“We obviously gotta play better,” James said. “Talked to the kids before the game about firing on all eight cylinders and we haven’t done that all year. Obviously, that’d be the best time to do it, two weeks from now.”
It'll be back to the grind for Chestovich and his coaching staff on Saturday, but the players will be sure to enjoy it as they get Monday off with the bye week.
“It’s awesome for the kids, they’re the ones that make this go ‘round and are the reason why we do it,” Chestovich said. “It’s a great thing for them. I can’t be any happier for them to finish this way and for the senior group to get a victory at home again. It’s awesome.”
Portage's Terrell Craft ran for a touchdown and had a 57-yard scoring reception in Friday's win over La Porte. (Photo by Susan Anglin)