Portage pulls off a shocker in Merrillville
MERRILLVILLE — Talk about vindication. After suffering an embarrassing and humiliating 62-7 loss at Lake Central last week, coach Jeromy Flowers’ Portage players never quit working, never quit practicing, and most importantly, never quit on themselves.
Who would have believed it?
Portage 17, Merrillville 16.
That Duneland Athletic Conference final score isn’t a misprint.
“Tonight’s game just goes to show you that it’s how you respond when you’ve been kicked down and beaten,’’ Flowers said.
Rashaan Coleman rushed for 115 yards, including a touchdown, and Alvin Best returned a kickoff 94 yards for a score in the first half as the Indians (1-3, 1-1) built a 14-13 halftime lead on the way to a stunning win over Merrillville Friday night.
Nathan Johnson’s 25-yard field goal with 8:55 left in the game proved to be the difference for the Indians, who avoided starting 0-4 with the upset of the Pirates.
The Indians accomplished the feat with Coleman playing quarterback in place of injured starter, Kris Knies, who suffered a shoulder injury against Lake Central last week.
Coleman said he found out he was going to play QB Monday at practice.
Flowers acted all week long like sophomore Gage Pearman would start against Merrillville — even in pregame warm-ups he let the Pirates think he would be at the controls.
Coleman, though, said he was starting all along.
“I had to know (I was starting), because I had to know how to pass,’’ he laughed. “We needed some leadership on offense. I always believed in our defense. They did their job. That was a job well done.’’
After a scoreless first period, Merrillville took a 6-0 lead when quarterback Jake Raspopovich hit Brian Jenkins with a 12-yard TD pass. The Pirates’ Matt Warren, however, missed the extra point — he also missed a 46-yard field goal in the first half — and that would come back to haunt Merrillville later.
Best helped Portage take a 7-6 lead when he returned the kickoff after Jenkins’ TD for a 94-yard score.
Merrillville’s Darryl Peppers, however, scored from a yard out to put the Pirates back on top 13-7. Peppers rushed for a game-high 124 yards. Coleman then scored from two yards out just before halftime, giving the Indians a one-point lead at halftime.
Warren booted a 25-yard field goal with 25.3 seconds left in the third quarter to put the Pirates ahead again, 16-14.
A 52-yard run by Hashim Simpson -- who rushed for 122 yards on 12 carries to lead Portage -- set up Johnson’s winning field goal early in the fourth quarter.
The Indians managed to thwart Merrillville’s offense the rest of the game.
The biggest stop came on the Pirates’ final drive when Portage held on a fourth down and 15 play and Merrillville came up one yard short.
“This win means so much to everyone on this team right now,’’ Coleman said.