The Raiders hosted the Panthers of DeWitt on Friday night in a battle of mid-Michigan powerhouse football programs. While the schools played one another routinely in past decades, this was the first meeting in years and a was billed to be the biggest game in the area this week.
The Panthers started their first possession on their own 20 after Raider junior kicker Cameron Roof put the opening kickoff into the endzone.
The Raider defense was able to stop the Panther run game, but on multiple third down situations, the Panthers were able to pass for first downs and quickly marched the ball down the field. DeWitt’s senior quarterback Andrew Schorfhaar topped off the opening drive with a five-yard touchdown run up the middle of the Portland defense. The point after was good and DeWitt had the lead with 8:42 remaining in the first.
Raider senior Jordan Selby had a nice kick return to start the Raiders first possession, setting his team up on their own 40. Raider senior quarterback Owen Russell connected with senior Blake Meyers for a first down, moving the Raiders to DeWitt’s 47.
The Raiders quickly found themselves in a fourth and five situation. Multiple flags on DeWitt on the play got the Raiders a key first down, and the ball on DeWitt’s 33-yard line. Two plays later Meyers would break free from the Panther line and would scamper for a 30-yard touchdown run with 4:37 remaining in the first. The point after by Roof was good, and the game was tied 7-7.
DeWitt started their possession on their own 22, and again was able to quickly pick up a first down with a pass. Another costly penalty for the Panthers put them in a 4th and 12 situation in their own territory. As DeWitt lined up to punt the ball to Portland, the snap to the freshman punter/kicker Brandon Soltis sailed past him, and the Raider defense led by David Svanda forced a safety giving the Raiders a 9-7 lead with 0:06 left in the first quarter.
Portland received the kick after the safety on their own 48. While the Raiders were unable to pick up a first down, Raider senior punter Paton Russell and his unit was able to pin DeWitt in at the Panther five to start their next possession.
The Raider defense once again showed their toughness and forced another DeWitt punt. After a return by Meyers, Portland would start their offensive drive on Dewitt’s 32 with 7:45 left in the second quarter.
The Raider offense was able to move the ball quickly and had a first and goal on the Panther one-yard line. QB Russell punched it in himself with 6:13 on the clock. Roof’s point after was good and the Raiders led 16-7.
The teams exchanged punts in the following two possessions.
DeWitt would then take over on their own 20 with 2:26 on the clock. DeWitt’s Schorfhaar would connect with junior receiver Luke Bresser for a 77-yard touchdown pass. The point after by Soltis was good, pushing the score to 16-14 with 1:35 to go.
Portland’s Shelby would once again set his team up in great position after he returned the DeWitt kick to the Panther 48 with 1:29 to go.
Another costly penalty on the Panthers had Portland sitting 1st and 10 on Panther 25 with 0:57 to go. After a brief stall, O. Russell would connect with P. Russell for a 23-yard touchdown pass with 0:32 remaining. Roof nailed the point after, putting the Raiders up 23-14.
DeWitt was unable to score again and both teams went to the halftime break with the Raiders up 23-14.
The Raiders received the second half kick off but were forced to punt.
DeWitt took over on their own 39 with 9:39 remaining in the third. The Panther pass game would again sting the Raiders when Schorfhaar connected with Bresser for a long a pass, putting DeWitt on the Portland 30. The Raider defense had a few key plays, including a quarterback sack by senior Chris Teachout, but an untimely penalty on the Raiders had DeWitt sitting 1st and 10 deep in Raider territory. The lethal Panther pass game would strike again when Schorfhaar connected with sophomore Tommy McIntosh for a 15-yard touchdown pass with 6:31 remaining in the third. The Panther two-point conversion attempt was incomplete and the score moved to Portland 23, DeWitt 20.
In what was likely the single biggest momentum shift of the game, the Raiders kick return team was able to form a wall in front of their own bench on the ensuing kick return. Selby used the wall perfectly and made a fantastic 80-yard touchdown run, eluding multiple Panther tacklers. The point after try was no good, and Portland extended their lead to 29-20 with 6:15 remaining in the third.
DeWitt would start on own 30 with 6:09 left in third. The Raider defense was ready to battle. Teachout and sophomore Reis Phillips sacked Schorfhaar early in the series and with the Panthers sitting first and 10 on their own 40, Portland senior defensive back Gavin McGregor intercepted Schorfhaar’s pass and made a brilliant 45-yard return.
The Raider offense was then forced to punt and DeWitt took over at their own 35 with 2:37 left in the third.
The Panther offense was able to pick up a few key first downs when needed to move the ball deep into Portland territory. With 0:28 remaining in the third, DeWitt’s Schorfhaar scored on a six-yard run. The point after by Soltis was good and the score was Portland 29, DeWitt 27. The score would remain the same at the end of the third quarter.
The Raider offense was unable to make a sustained drive, and the Raiders were forced to punt the ball back to the Panthers. DeWitt started on their own 30 with 11:01 remaining in the game.
The Raider defense again showed their toughness. Senior Carson Frewen made a huge tackle to put the Panthers in a 3rd and six situation. A few plays later, McGregor would once again pick off the DeWitt pass, this time with a 15-yard return.
Portland started on their own 48 with 6:53 left in the game. Meyers would pick up a big gain on a run play to set his team with a for first down on the Panther 37 with 5:44 left.
Another untimely flag against the DeWitt defense moved the Raiders to first and 10 on the DeWitt 18 with 2:40 left to play. On 4th and seven on the DeWitt 14, Russell’s pass into the endzone fell incomplete and the Panthers took over with 2:16 left in the game.
The final 2:16 would feel like an eternity for the Raider faithful. The Panther passing game had already proven itself to be very dangerous in the first three quarters of play, but the Raider secondary started to show great improvement. The tenacious Raider defensive front refused to allow Schorfhaar much time at all and they quickly chased him out of bounds twice. After an incomplete pass, DeWitt sat with a 4th and 7 situation with only 1:56 to play. Schorfhaar connected for a gut wrenching first down.
The Raider secondary was able to knock down the next pass, but on 2nd and 10 with 1:34 left on clock, DeWitt converted another pass for a first down in front of their own sideline.
With DeWitt on their own 35-yard line, the Raider defense battled, and the next three pass attempts fell incomplete.
With 1:02 on the clock, the Panthers were sitting fourth and ten, and they would use their final timeout of the game.
As Schorfhaar set up to pass, the interior defense of the Raiders quickly chased him out of the pocket, and Portland’s Owen Russell brought him down to finally end the Panther drive.
With only 54 second left, Portland would take over on the Panther 25-yard line, and were able to run out the clock.
In one of the most thrilling games in recent history, the Raiders picked up the 29-27 win.
After the game, Portland head coach Johns Novara said, “The big kick return was a momentum shift for us. I am proud of our kids tonight. They fought all night long. We were exhausted. That is a big physical football team and we were able to hang in there.”
Novara added, “It is a great win for us and it gives us some playoff points, but we have a tough league in front of us, and I think that is the most important thing is that this helped us get ready for the league season we are about ready to start in. Our kids are going to celebrate and be happy tonight, but then they also have to go back to work on Monday.”
“Our defense played good. They (DeWitt) just give you so many different looks. We had a hard time adapting to the pass and we sold out to stop the run and I think we did a good job of that. Our defensive backs got better and better as the game went on. They did a great job of keeping them in check. You are never going to stop that team, they are just too powerful, but we were able to keep them in check, and make one extra play.”
As for Selby’s kick return behind the wall set by his blockers, Novara said, “We run it all the time, actually the kid made a heck of a play because they had two guys outside of our wall. He made a heck of a play to take it in then come back out. He just made an electrifying play.”
When asked what he learned about his team tonight, Novara said, “They will fight. That is the biggest thing. We just want our kids to fight. We really didn’t have a good week of practice. I was really disappointed coming into the game. But they came out tonight and fought. The biggest thing is they came together. All 36 of them. We were in it the whole game.” Novara added, “It is just a big win for us right now, and I guess we just need to keep doing it every week. We are a young football team and we have a lot of growing up to do. We had a hard time running the football in the second half and we have to keep working on that.”
As for the tension filled final minutes, Novara said, “We had a lot of tired kids out there. Owen (Russell) has played quarterback and he missed a touchdown pass just before that we could have shut the game down, so it was good for him. Had a guy wide open and missed him, then came back and mad the big sack that got us the victory.”
As for DeWitt, Novara said, “That is a great football team. They are going to win a ton of games.”
When asked about his defense’s performance, he said, “They made a lot of huge plays. The important thing is we were able to stop the run early. That let our defensive backs relax, play the pass and not come up on the run and make the tackle too many times. It allowed them to play a little bit better pass coverage.”
Portland Run Statistics:
Blake Meyers 8 carries for 51 yards and 1 TD
Gavin McGregor 9 carries for 31 yards
Paton Russell 6 carries for 16 yards
Owen Russell 7 carries for -4 yards
Cameron Roof 1 carry for 4 yards
Portland Passing Statistics:
Owen Russell 3 for 9 for 51 and 1 TD
Portland Defense Statistics:
Carson Frewen 10 Tackles, 2 tackles for loss
Chris Teachout 10 Tackles, 2 tackles for loss and 1 sack
Gavin McGregor 5 Tackles, 2 interceptions
Next week Portland will travel to Sexton for their first road game of the year and their first game in the CAAC white. Sexton is 0-2 on the year. They lost to Olivet 40-18 in week one, and to Haslett 20-6 in week two. Despite their 0-2 start, the Sexton squad should not be overlooked in any manner. Their team is full of talented and explosive athletes that can break off long runs at any time. The Raider defense will be key in the week three matchup.