Portland football relies on defense to beat rival Ionia County

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IONIA – The Portland varsity football team held Ionia scoreless for three quarters Friday night to earn a win in the county rivalry game.

Portland defeated Ionia, 41-6, on Friday, Sept. 16, in the annual Purple Game at Lloyd T. Smith Memorial Field in Ionia.

The Raiders improve to 3-1 and have won two in a row after losing a close game to DeWitt in Week 2. Portland won its first two meetings between the Capital Area Activities Conference and the White Division, after shutting out Eaton Rapids in Week 3.

Portland head coach John Novara believes the game was much closer than the scoreline indicated. He was proud of how his side reacted in the second half – beating Ionia 22-0.

“I thought we played well,” Novara said. “I thought Ionia had a very good game plan, just kicked the ball and controlled the clock in the first quarter… Every time we come here or play against Ionia, it will be a physical football game I’m proud of our kids who hung in there and made games when we needed them.

Ionia fell to 1-3, including 0-2 in the CAAC-Blanc. Bulldogs head coach Chad Rhynard said it’s hard to beat a team that doesn’t return the ball or make mistakes.

“Portland is really good,” Rhynard said. “If you make a mistake, you pay the maximum price. You need to fill balls to open catchers. You can’t miss opportunities. When you have the chance to hit a big run game, you have to hit because you don’t have many chances. You can’t help but make big plays when they come up.

The Bulldogs received the ball to start the game and ran down Portland’s 10-yard line. On 4th and 3rd, Ionia’s sophomore running back Tyson Brownell was tackled for a yard loss by Portland senior defensive back Drew Miller giving the ball to the Raiders.

Miller quickly switched to an offensive mindset – running for a 76-yard touchdown on the drive. Junior kicker Aiden Pulling’s extra point gave the Raiders a 7-0 lead with 3:39 left in the first quarter.

“If you fall behind Ionia, with the way they handle football, you have problems,” Novara said. “It was good to take that 7-0 lead and sit on that lead.”

Ionia kicked their next possession and Portland found the end zone. Junior running back Caden Thelen ran 38 yards down the right side for the score, giving the Raiders a 13-0 lead with 1:04 left in the first quarter.

Ionia responded quickly with a 72-yard touchdown by junior quarterback Travis Tucker Jr. as Portland’s defense struggled to bring him down. Rhynard hugged Tucker Jr., who has been battling an injury.

“He’s fast,” Rhynard said. “That’s why we play him at quarterback because he has a chance to hit a home run every time he touches the ball. It was good that he hit one tonight. We needed at this point in the game.”

Ionia junior quarterback Travis Tucker Jr. runs for a touchdown as Portland junior defensive back Conner Kazamer chases during a college football game Friday, Sept. 16 at Lloyd T. Smith Memorial Field in Ionia.  Portland won the game, 41-6.  It marked Ionia High School's annual purple game, where the community raised funds to support those affected by cancer.

The Raiders led 13-6 after the first quarter and took a 19-6 lead into the locker room at halftime. A 3-yard run from senior quarterback Marc Nobis was the only point in the second quarter.

Portland controlled the ball better in the final 24 minutes and kicked off their running game. They scored on the opening drive of the second half, when Thelen rushed for a 5-yard touchdown. Nobis found sophomore Barrett Brennan for the two-point conversion, extending the lead to 27-6.

The Raiders got two touchdowns in the fourth quarter on a 13-yard run by senior fullback Branson Goodman and a 2-yard run from second Kaleb Bower.

Portland senior quarterback Marc Nobis delivers the ball to senior running back Drew Miller (#2) during a college football game against Ionia Friday, Sept. 16 at Lloyd T. Smith Memorial Field in Ionia.  Portland won the game, 41-6.  It marked Ionia High School's annual purple game, where the community raised funds to support those affected by cancer.

Miller led the Raiders’ offense with 189 yards on 16 carries and a touchdown. Bower and junior defensive back Conner Kazamer led Portland’s defense with five tackles apiece.

Tucker Jr. led Ionia with 126 yards on nine carries and the touchdown. Brennan Brownell led Ionia’s defense with 10.5 tackles.

Portland improves to 11-4 in the all-time series against Ionia, including nine straight wins since 2014.

Friday marked the annual Purple Game for the varsity football team. Purple Week raises money for Ionia Community Awareness, which raises money for community members affected by cancer. Throughout the week, sports teams at Ionia High School wear purple jerseys.

Ionia players presented their post-contest jerseys to families affected by cancer.

Rhynard presented his purple jersey to Tim Schafer, a former high school classmate who survived cancer.

“It’s nice to bring the whole community together,” Rhynard said. “It’s a good cause. It’s nice to be a part of it and to see it grow here for eight years.

The Portland Football Program donated $500 to Ionia Community Awareness. Novara said he asked his players if they would like to donate funds raised during the offseason to Ionia. Novara said he respects the Ionia program.

Ionia County law enforcement and first responders escorted cancer survivors onto the field prior to the college football game between Ionia and Portland on Friday, September 16 at Lloyd T. Smith Memorial Field in Ionia.  Portland won the game, 41-6.  It marked Ionia High School's annual purple game, where the community raised funds to support those affected by cancer.

“It’s a great night for their community,” Novara said. “Being so close, we definitely support them.”

After three straight road games, Portland will return home next Friday, September 23, to face Lansing Sexton. Kick off is at 7 p.m.

“We have to keep improving week by week,” Novara said.

Ionia will travel to Charlotte for a 7 p.m. kickoff on September 23.

— Contact journalist Evan Sasiela at esasiela@sentinel-standard.com. Follow him on Twitter @SalsaEvan.

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