Portagers push on: Onekama cruises past Brethren for regional crown

Onekama’s Aaron Powers stiff arms an oncoming Bobcat during the Portagers’ regional title victory on Friday night. (Kyle Kotecki/News Advocate)

Onekama’s Aaron Powers stiff arms an oncoming Bobcat during the Portagers’ regional title victory on Friday night. (Kyle Kotecki/News Advocate)

ONEKAMA — Onekama football put an end to Brethren’s season and secured a regional title with a convincing 52-0 win at home Friday in an 8-player Division 2 regional final.

“It’s historic,” Onekama coach John Neph said of winning the regional title. “I think it means the world to us. I think we’ll talk about it a lot more at the banquet or whenever the season ends. It’s a great win. We’re always happy to win at home. It means a lot and will probably mean more to us as we go forward and look back. Our guys are excited. They really wanted that trophy, and we got it. It’s great.”

Both the Bobcats and the Portagers have had historic seasons and a multitude of supporters for both schools filed into Portager Field to watch the county rivalry game.

The Bobcats (7-4) opened the game with a 12-play, 44-yard drive that resulted in a turnover on downs on the Portagers’ 11-yard line. Ten plays later, Onekama’s Lucas Mauntler completed a 60-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Wade Sedlar with 2:40 left in the first quarter. Mauntler ran in the 2-point conversion to give the Portagers (9-2) an 8-0 advantage.

“First two possessions, we drive the ball down the field and on fourth down, we just didn’t punch it in,” said Brethren coach J.J. Randall. “I said this, and I hate saying it, but if we score on that first possession, totally different motivation. Totally different game.

“That’s one thing that we have to change within the culture of our program,” he continued. “… When things aren’t going great, we still have to be fundamental and we still have to do the things we have to do. To be a good football team we have to do that. Onekama had the confidence and they flowed and their defense played really well. Credit to Coach Neph for doing it.”

Onekama forced the Bobcats’ punter to tuck the ball and scramble due to pressure, leading to a turnover on downs. The Portagers capitalized on the good field position by scoring in just five plays, with Ben Acton finding the end zone after rushing right, reversing field and finding an opening up the left sideline for an 8-yard score.

Mauntler hit Rylan Clarke for the 2-point conversion and Onekama was up 16-0 with 11:48 left in the half.

“It was a great win for our seniors,” Neph said. “They really wanted to make an historic night of it. They had a great week of practice and we did a lot of work. It showed (Friday). We added a few variations to some of the stuff we’re doing and we hit a couple big plays and that always helps.”

After a Brethren turnover on downs, the Portagers scored just three plays later when Mauntler completed another 60-yard touchdown pass to Sedlar, who made two would-be Bobcat defenders miss en route to the end zone.

“I’m just real happy,” Neph said. “Wade Sedlar had some huge plays and Luke (Mauntler) running the offense. We felt good about our game plan coming in and it’s up to the guys to execute it and they certainly did. Great job. Our line blocked better and all the backs blocked. It was a total team offensive effort. So happy for our guys.”

Brethren marched down the field on the ensuing possession, going on an 11-play, 58-yard drive that saw the Bobcats reach the Portagers’ 7-yard line before turning the ball over on downs. No team was able to score for the remainder of the half and the teams went into the locker room with Onekama holding a 22-0 lead.

“When we were in position — and credit to (Onekama), they beat us off the ball — but when we woke up a little bit after going down 16-0 we were actually starting to play physical and play football, and it was too late at that point,” Randall said. “And we had another fourth-and-3 that we didn’t convert.”

The Bobcats entered the game coming off an impressive 42-26 win over Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart last week.

Onekama blocked a Brethren punt midway through the third quarter and Matthew Mallison scooped it up and ran it down to the Bobcats’ 15-yard line. Acton crossed the goal line three plays later on a 10-yard rush up the middle, barreling through would-be tacklers to give the Portagers a 28-0 lead with 7:12 left in the third quarter.

Logan Tighe led the Bobcats’ offense with nine carries for 33 yards and also had three receptions for 43 yards. Gavin Asiala had 21 yards on six carries and a 5-yard reception. Troy Macurio had 29 yards on the ground and completed 9-of-15 passes with an interception. Hunter Wojciechowski had a team-high 11 tackles while Jacob Riggs added six.

Onekama’s Ben Falk said the key to the win was “physicality,” and believes his team has the potential to play even better moving forward.

“(We just need to) clean up offense and defense,” Falk said. “Everything can be improved, we just need to improve on it.”

The Portagers topped Marion 22-6 last week in a game in which Onekama’s offense did not score.

The Bobcats were forced to punt six plays later and Onekama’s Aaron Powers scored on a 9-yard sweep to the right, crossing the goal line with two Brethren defenders on his back. Mauntler ran in the 2-point conversion to put the Portagers up 36-0.

“We’ve got some good football players,” Neph said. “They’re doing a lot of good things, running around and making some tackles and I’m really happy.”

Powers recovered a Brethren fumble and took it 60 yards for a score. Mauntler’s 2-point conversion made the score 44-0 in Onekama’s favor.

Acton had 10 carries for 95 yards and two touchdowns, Powers had 84 yards on eight carries with a touchdown and Taylor Bennett amassed 62 yards on six carries. Mauntler completed 2-of-3 passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns and Bennett connected on his only pass for a 46-yard score. Sedlar had two receptions for 120 yards, with each resulting in a touchdown.

Powers led the Portagers in tackles with 12, Sedlar added seven, Bennett recorded five and Acton had four.

Though disappointed with how the season ended, Randall is happy with the way his team competed throughout the season and believes this is a huge step in the right direction for Brethren’s football program.

“I told the kids we can’t downplay how awesome this season was for us, for our school and our community,” Randall said. “The first time in the playoffs since 2014, the first win since 1990 in the playoffs and first conference championship since 1980.

“My seniors, this group has been amazing,” he continued. “Jake Riggs, C.J. Wayward, Hunter Wojciechowski, Gavin Asiala, Adrian Dean and Logan Tighe were an amazing group and it was the first group that played Pop Warner. And it shows — especially for our program — how good it is, and what good leaders and what good young men they are, too.”

With the Portagers set to punt on fourth-and-13 with 2:16 left in the game, the snap sailed over Bennett’s head and in the ensuing chaos Mauntler broke open and Bennett hit him for a 46-yard touchdown pass. Johnny Neph crossed the goal line for the 2-point conversion for the last points of the game.

“I’m blessed to be able to have these guys,” Coach Neph said. “To be able to coach them and work with them. They show up every day. They goof around a lot, but they know when it’s time to get serious. We’re having a really good time and we want to go as far as we can and as long as we can. We’re having so much fun.”

With the win, Onekama moves on to host the winner of today’s 1 p.m. matchup between Tekonsha and Portland St. Patrick in an 8-player Division 2 state semifinal game next week.

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