La PORTE — Despite sitting at 0-4, La Porte's football team continued to fight. Despite several lopsided losses, it continued to work.
It gradually has progressed each week for the last month. The Slicers got to reap the benefits on Friday night.
To close the regular season, the Slicers busted through for only their second victory this season, fending off a furious Portage fourth-quarter rally, prevailing 20-14 at Kiwanis Field in a game they never trailed.
“We were all ready,” La Porte quarterback Robbie Kiner said. “Obviously, we're getting a rematch with Michigan City (in the sectional) in a couple weeks. Everybody's hyped for that. We just wanted to show what we can do on Friday nights."
After building a 20-7 advantage, the Slicers (2-7, 2-5 Duneland Conference) seemed destined for the win. But the Indians (1-8, 0-7 DAC), who had countless penalties in the game, had other ideas.
They clawed back in the last period, due in large part to their passing attack spearheaded by Zack Warchus.
First, Warchus directed an 85-yard touchdown drive, cutting the deficit to six midway through the fourth. He had an 11-yard TD pass to an open Scott Hansen on fourth and goal. That gave Portage life after La Porte appeared to have the contest in control. Warchus had six straight plays with a completion on the drive and had three completions to Hansen on the possession.
The Indians then recovered an onside kick, but offsetting penalties, illegal procedure on Portage and a dead-ball personal foul on La Porte, erased the play. La Porte's Austin Buda then recovered the ensuing onside kick from midfield. After a Slicers punt, Portage got the ball back with 3:15 left at its own 33. Warchus again was strong passing, helping his squad advance the ball to the Slicers' 22. After Zach Purnell nearly had an interception on second and 12 from the 22, Jaden Browder delivered a crucial sack on third down, and Warchus threw an incompletion in the end zone on fourth down to essentially seal the win.
“I'm very, very proud of our kids,” La Porte coach Jeremy Lowery said. “I knew we were going to play well because they've continued to practice. They simply got what they deserve because they have gone back to work week after week after week. They haven't blinked.”
Kiner, who got the start at signal caller for the injured Collin Bergquist, did an admirable job. He started this year the first three contests.
Kiner went 4-of-11 passing for 42 yards with a touchdown, but most importantly, he didn't turn the ball over.
“He managed the game very well, took care of the football," Lowery said. “Maybe took one sack he could have avoided. Besides that, he managed the game, managed it nice. He made a couple really nice throws when we needed them.”
In addition to Kiner, the Slicers' defense rose up again, limiting Portage much of the night.
“They've just prepared hard,” Lowery said. “Those guys get a good grasp of what our opponents are going to do to us. Then they go out and they execute that plan and they get after it. They play physical. We talked about that a lot. Tonight was about going out and physically controlling the game and I felt like we were the more physical team, and it showed.”
On La Porte's first series, it methodically marched 60 yards in 12 plays to take a 7-0 lead. It was punctuated by Jeremiah Ruiz’s 1-yard touchdown dive just to the left. The Slicers were aided by two Indians’ offsides penalties resulting in first downs.
Late in the first period, Portage got the ball on a punt and tied the contest 7-7 with an 87-yard drive. It was capped by Corey Hill’s 5-yard run to pay dirt to the left side midway through the second.
The Slicers answered to go ahead for the second time.
Jayden Parkes was effective rushing on the drive, converting a third and 10 with an 11-yard run across midfield. After a timeout, Kiner connected with Evan Cizewski on an 18-yard TD pass after a run fake. That put La Porte ahead for good, 14-7, with just under a minute remaining before the break.
“I just did my normal drop and I saw Evan going right up the middle of the field,” Kiner said. “The safety bit on our fake and I knew from there I had to complete that pass to give us the early momentum.”
Justin Forker added a 6-yard touchdown run to extend the lead to 13 midway through the third. That came after the Indians committed 35 yards of penalties between two plays earlier in the sequence.
The Slicers capitalized on several untimely penalties by the visitors.
Ruiz led La Porte with 81 yards rushing and a touchdown, while Parkes added 60 yards on the ground.
Warchus finished 14-of-23 passing for 176 yards. Hansen paced Portage with 71 yards receiving.
La Porte 20, Portage 14
The Slicers' Jeremiah Ruiz rushed for 81 yards and a touchdown.