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Portage football's late surge falls short in 20-16 loss to Monona Grove
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PREP FOOTBALL | MONONA GROVE 20, PORTAGE 16

Portage football's late surge falls short in 20-16 loss to Monona Grove

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

Converting on third and fourth down is such a crucial part of football.

Whether it’s moving the chains offensively or getting off the field to force a punt, executing in those situations can make or break a game.

It proved to be too little too late for the Portage football team Friday night. While they thrived in the second half, an inability to perform on key downs in the first half proved to be too much for the Warriors in a 20-16 loss to Monona Grove in a Badger Small Conference game at Bob Mael Field.

Portage pitched a second half shutout and scored the game’s final 16 points, but the 20-point halftime deficit was too much as the Warriors failed to punch their ticket to the playoffs.

“We did that in the second half; we got some of those stops and we offensively we were able to execute,” Portage coach Shane Haak said. “We didn’t execute in the timely situations, offensively and defensively, in the first half and against good teams you have to be able to execute on those bigger downs and bigger plays.”

The Warriors (5-3, 3-3 Badger Small) boomed on big plays in the second half, and had arguably the game's biggest play in the game’s waning seconds. After forcing a Silver Eagles punt with 25 seconds left, senior Jaden Kikkert returned the ensuing kick 80 yards for a touchdown, weaving through nearly the entire Monona Grove punt team and out running Kade Sauk to the end zone to pull the Warriors within 20-14 with 5 seconds to play.

Senior Isaac Paul then made a juggling catch for the two-point conversion to reel Portage within 20-16, before the Warriors lined up for an onside kick. Junior Ian Karpelenia proceeded to cover the onside kick just on the other side of midfield; however, Portage was flagged for an illegal touching penalty just one yard shy of midfield to give the Silver Eagles a chance to kneel out the remaining clock.

“We’ve shown that a lot, being able to come back and we never question our fight; we have plenty of that and we have the right leadership for that,” Haak said of his team’s furious rally attempt. “But we do need to improve on the mental side of the game, whether it be penalties or understanding some of our assignments. That’s an area we need to improve upon.”

Those mental miscues truly came back to bite the Warriors’ in the end as Kikkert’s punt return score could have potentially won Portage the game. Trailing 20-8 early in the fourth quarter, Portage senior Jarred Starr picked off Monona Grove’s Kody Cummings at the Warriors’ 2-yard line on fourth-and-4 — had he let the pass drop, Portage would have taken over at their own 37.

No matter, the Warriors went on to drive down inside the Monona Grove red zone, but only went backwards from there with a poor snap, two incomplete passes and another poor snap led a long Thompson sack and turnover on downs. Thompson was sacked five times for a loss of 42 yards, drastically impacting the Warriors as they finished with just 117 total yards, including 43 rushing.

“That comes down to some of the mental errors we need to continue to focus on, and against good teams some of those mental mistakes are definitely exploited more,” Haak said.

While they were able to execute in the final 24 minutes, before halftime the Warriors struggled to hold back the Silver Eagles. Portage squandered a pair of chances to get off the field on the Silver Eagles’ opening drive.

First senior Makale Curry converted on third-and-4 with a nine-yard run to the Portage 26-yard line, and just four plays later on a fourth-and-12, junior Brady Voss scrambled for 26 yards on a broken play to set up first-and-goal from the 2.

“There were a couple, I wouldn’t want to say broken plays, but they’re escape plays where he got on the edge and got some key first downs to keep the sticks moving,” Monona Grove coach Brandon Beckwith said of Voss.

Curry, who rushed for a game-high 75 yards on 16 carries, finished things off from there, powering in on the next play to give Monona Grove a 7-0 lead with 6 minutes, 55 seconds left in the opening quarter. It was just the start for the Silver Eagles as they methodically picked apart Portage over the course of the opening 24 minutes.

Monona Grove racked up 14 first downs and ran a total of 43 offensive plays.

Still, the Warriors defense, which held the Silver Eagles to just two second-half first downs, didn’t relent.

Portage made a pair of stops inside their own 10 to force a pair of Cuinn Larsh field goals — the first from 22 yards, the latter from 24 to stretch the lead to 20-0 — sandwiched around a 3-yard Cooper Marsh touchdown run with 7:18 left in the second quarter.

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Beckwith admitted he doesn’t think the Silver Eagles “have yet to really find, or show, our true identity,” but he does know they executed when it mattered.

“We talk about it all the time, offensively and defensively, third downs. You look at every level, they don’t put up third down stats for no reason, so it’s huge,” he said.

Haak definitely agreed, noting the Warriors’ have plenty of areas for improvement looking ahead to next Friday’s rivalry showdown with Baraboo.

“That’s a good football team and they beat us tonight, but we have to focus on this coming week and Week 9,” he said. “We have to be able to have a bit of a short-term memory because we have so many areas where we can improve this week. We have to look at that as an opportunity to correct some things and improve for next week.”

MONONA GROVE 20, PORTAGE 16

Monona Grove;10;10;0;0;—;20

Portage;0;0;8;8;—;16

MG — Curry 2 run (Larsh kick), 6:55, 1st

MG — Larsh 22 field goal, 0:04, 1st

MG — Marsh 3 run (Larsh kick), 7:18, 2nd

MG — Larsh 24 field goal, 1:25, 2nd

P — Bleich 1 run (Kikkert run), 2:12, 3rd

P — Kikkert 80 punt return (Paul pass from Thompson), 0:05, 4th

TEAM STATS

First downs — MG 16, P 14. Rushing (Att.-Yds.) — MG 39-142, P 31-43. Passing yards — MG 102, P 74. Passing (Comp.-Att.-Int.) — MG 11-21-1, P 10-20-1. Fumbles-lost — MG 1-0, P 0-0. Penalties-yards — MG 7-80, P 5-40.

INDIVIDUAL LEADERS

Rushing — MG, Curry 16-75. P, Bleich 9-48.

Passing — MG, Voss 10-19-0-97. P, Thompson 10-20-1-74.

Receiving — MG, Erb 4-42. P, Horn 2-12; Garrigan 1-18.

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

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