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Portage football fades down stretch in 29-16 loss to Fort Atkinson
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PREP FOOTBALL | FORT ATKINSON 29, PORTAGE 16

Portage football fades down stretch in 29-16 loss to Fort Atkinson

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Insight into this year's Portage prep football team from senior offensive lineman Jack Callen.

In a physical, hard fought game, momentum can truly turn on a dime.

It certainly turned for the worse on the Portage prep football team Thursday night.

After seizing just their second lead of the night with 8 minutes, 30 seconds to play, the Warriors’ found themselves on the back foot just 32 seconds later and didn’t have an answer the rest of the fourth quarter in a 29-16 loss to Fort Atkinson in a Badger Small Conference game at Bob Mael Field.

Portage piled up over 300 yards of offense but struggled to hold back the Blackhawks down the stretch as they scored 22 fourth-quarter points to reel off a fourth straight win, and in the process had the Warriors their second straight defeat.

“I think it was a hard fought game on both sides of the ball. It was a physical game, back-and-forth, and we did a lot of good things, obviously, with the ability to respond, especially in the beginning of the fourth quarter,” Portage coach Shane Haak said.

“But they were able to put that drive together and some big plays in the end, and we didn’t do a great job defensively at the end to be able to stop them.”

That drive came in the form of a game-sealing five-play surge following a crucial interception by Fort Atkinson junior Dane Brost. After the Blackhawks (4-1, 3-0 Badger Small) took a 22-16 lead with 7:58 to play, the Warriors looked to answer and sniffed midfield nearing the halfway point of the quarter.

It quickly unraveled however, as Portage junior quarterback Gavin Thompson under threw a faded intended for senior Sam Horn that was undercut and snagged by Brost at the Blackhawks 23-yard line with 5:50 to play.

Fort Atkinson wasted little time getting back in the end zone as it ripped off a five-play, 77-yard drive, capped off by a 25-yard touchdown scamper from senior Alec Courtier with 3:43 to play for a 29-16 lead. The burst from Courtier, who finished with 80 yards on 19 carries, was the fourth double-digit run on the drive with senior Cade Cosson starting things off with first down runs of 17, 15 and 15 yards.

“I thought they were physical offensively and their backs were physical, especially Courtier,” Haak said. “They did a good job and I thought we did a good job defensively for most of the game, but when it comes down to those key moments, they’re the ones that will be magnified the most.”

After putting together a late surge in last week’s 29-26 loss to Mt. Horeb/Barneveld, Portage (3-2, 1-2) didn’t have any magic up its sleeve as the Warriors turned the ball over on downs on the ensuing possession before Fort Atkinson ran out the remaining time on the clock to seal the win.

The final result was very much up in the air throughout the opening three quarters. Fort Atkinson took a 7-0 lead into the break after quarterback Carson Baker connected with Ryan Acosta for a 24-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-16 with 8:20 to go in the first half. The Blackhawks had initially lined up to attempt a 35-yard field goal, but after a false start, rolled the dice and came up with seven points as Baker, who was 10-of-17 for 136 yards, hit Acosta on a fade in the far right corner.

Despite the momentum swing, Portage remained steady and responded out of the break. The Warriors sniffed the Fort Atkinson red zone on its opening drive of the half but squandered the chance with a fumble recovered by the Blackhawks.

However, after forcing a quick three-and-out, the Warriors took the lead with 4:43 to play in the quarter as senior Ethan Bleich powered in from a yard out, and the subsequent two-point try, for an 8-7 lead.

“Every opportunity you have, to be able to get off the field on fourth down, you have to be able to do that, but I thought we responded well coming out of halftime. We were down a touchdown but we responded well in the third quarter,” Haak said.

The teams then traded the lead three more times, but it was the Blackhawks’ second score that emphatically turned the game around. After the Warriors ripped off an eight-play, 72-yard scoring drive capped off by a Bleich 2-yard plunge, Fort Atkinson needed just two plays to retake the lead for good.

After a short squib kick, senior Evan Dudzek ripped off a 52-yard run down to the Portage 7-yard line. The 6-foot, 201-pounder finished things off on the next play and the Warriors found themselves trailing again just 32 seconds later and their traction slipped from there.

“I think it’s something we have to work on, to be able to sustain, through all four quarters,” Haak said. “That’s an area we have to continue to improve upon. I thought we did a good job responding to them early in the fourth quarter and putting those drives together, but we also had some opportunities earlier.”

He’s not kidding. The Warriors’ opening two drives of the game both resulted in turnovers on downs deep in Fort Atkinson territory, with the first stalling out at the Blackhawks 10. Haak knows those chances need to be capitalized on, but he was still happy with the way the Warriors moved the ball in the middle of the field.

Seniors Erik Brouette and Jordan Starr rushed for 99 and 60 yards, respectively, while Thompson was 10-of-18 for 102 yards with the lone interception. And while the close defeat stings, especially coming off last week’s three-point loss, Haak is confident they can only help the Warriors in the long run.

“When you’re in these tight games, I really believe that if you continue to put yourself in them, we have to keep looking and see where we can improve,” he said. “Our goal now has to be ‘What can we take away from this week that we can improve upon for next week.’”

Follow Sean Davis on Twitter @SDavis_PDR or contact him at 608-745-3512.

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