HOMER CITY - Portage entered Friday's nonconference football game with heavy hearts. The way things turned out, the Mustangs showed plenty of heart as well.
The Mustangs learned Friday as they arrived at Memorial Field that coach Gary Gouse would miss the nonconference game against Homer-Center after undergoing an operation for the removal of a kidney stone earlier in the day.
"He called us in the locker room right before we started playing," Portage sophomore running back Caleb Kephart said. "He really gave us an emotional speech. It really got us going.
"He was sorry he couldn't be here. He wanted to be here. It was a huge game for him."
But touchdown runs by Caleb and Cody Kephart and a touchdown reception by Joe Randozzo lifted the playoff-bound Mustangs to a 20-14 victory over the Wildcats.
If Portage needed a stiff test entering the quarterfinals, it is safe to assume the Wildcats passed it.
Second-seeded Portage will host seventh-seeded Northern Cambria on Friday night in the District 6 Class A playoffs. The pairings will be officially announced Sunday in Altoona.
Cody Kephart's 7-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter capped off a 3-minute possession that was kept alive by a pass interference and an offside penalty.
Evan Price's 11-yard scoring toss to Randozzo midway through the third quarter restored the Mustangs' lead. Caleb Kephart's scoring run in the fourth quarter highlighted a five-play, 67-yard march that Cody Kephart kept alive with a 36-yard run.
"I felt like we played outstanding defense at times," Homer-Center coach Greg Page said. "But we had too many breakdowns, too many mistakes."
The Portage staff shared the coaching duties in Gouse's absence.
"Before this game started we wanted to let everyone to know, hey, this game was for Coach Gouse," offensive coordinator Larry McCabe said. "He called me afternoon and said, 'Hey, I'm not going to be able to make it.' And I said 'Coach, we're going to do everything in our power to win this game.' "
"They're so well-coached with all their staff," Page said. "My hat's off to them. They made the plays tonight."
Homer-Center received touchdown runs from Aaron Berezansky (3 yards) and Mike Newhouse (1 yard).
Caleb Kephart led all rushers with 77 yards on 14 attempts. Cody Kephart rushed 6 times for 66 yards. Portage held the edge in total yards, 214-158.
Price completed 5 of 9 passes for 27 yards and one touchdown.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Portage7 0 7 6 - 20
Homer-Center0 7 0 7 - 14
P-Kephart 7 run (Herman kick), :25.
HC-Berezansky 3 run (Grady kick), 4:27
P-Randozzo 11 pass from Price (Herman kick), 6:46
HC-Newhouse 1 run (Grady kick), 9:06
P - Kephart 20 run (kick failed), 7:19.
RUSHING: Portage - Caleb Kephart 14-77 Cody Kephart 6-66, Dividock 10-42, Price 8-6, Harrison 1-(-4). Homer-Center -Nealey 9-56, Newhouse 13-26, Grozanick 7-18, Berezansky 5-17, Lee 2-15, Peroli 2-4.
PASSING: Portage - Price 5-9-0-27. Homer-Center - Grozanick 2-5-0-22, Berezansky 0-2-0, Nealey 0-1-0.
RECEIVING: Portage - Randozzo 3-23, Caleb Kephart 1-7, Cody Kephart 1-(-3). Homer-Center - McCracken 1-14, Nealey 1-8.
TEAM STATISTICS PHC