Portage was a couple of narrow losses short of the playoffs in veteran coach Bob Hepp's first year. Will his knack for quick turnarounds get the Warriors into the playoffs for the first time since 2007 this season?
That's the goal, common for any program, is a return bid to the postseason. In previous stops at East Troy, Viroqua (twice), and Campbellsport (twice), Hepp has taken teams that struggled to win a game and delivered those programs to the playoffs within a few years.
Most of the top offensive and defensive backfield players graduated after last year, including the outstanding Nolan Paul, but what the returning crop of players bring back is size. Several of the returning linemen, including 290-pound honorable mention all-conference offensive lineman Clayton Kopel, tip the scales north of 200 pounds. Not only that, but for the returning skill position players, several are around the 6' mark. While size isn't everything, it's a team strength.
Some of the returning skill position contributors primed for larger roles this year include quarterback Brett Walker and running back Delnato Sheppard, Junior, who were in the mix both ways last fall.
For a while in 2017, it appeared as though Portage was well on their way; back-to-back wins in conference play for the first time in five years had the Warriors on the verge of making it into the postseason, but a 20-12 loss to Beaver Dam, a 3-0 overtime loss to Reedsburg, and a 35-28 loss to DeForest stood in the way of Portage and a surprising playoff bid.
Last year's 2-7 record is fairly deceiving; the Warriors faced Stoughton and Monona Grove in the crossover games, teams that finished 1-2 in the Badger South, as well as eventual Division 2 champ Waunakee in their own conference (not to mention 9-2 Mount Horeb/Barneveld). Portage lost to Stoughton by 15, and while Monona Grove, Waunakee, and MH/B put it to the Warriors, three of their seven losses were by one score.
It'll be a similarly tough schedule this year. Portage opens at Stoughton before returning home to face Monona Grove, and then embarks on Badger South play with games against Sauk Prairie and Baraboo, the Warriors' two wins in 2017, before settling in for the meat of the conference schedule beginning September 15 with a home game against Waunakee.
Portage actually plays four of their last five games at home, including Week 6 against Beaver Dam, Week 8 against Reedsburg, and Week 9 against DeForest, their three one-score losses in 2017 in conference play. A road game at Mount Horeb/Barneveld is in Week 7.
Portage Warriors - Badger North
Head Coach: Bob Hepp (1st Season), 2-7; 20th Season Overall, 102-72 (8-11 Playoffs)
2017 Result: 2-7 (2-5), 5th in the Badger North
Three-Year Record: 4-23
2017 All-Conference Honors: 0 First-Team, 2 Second-Team, 2 Honorable Mention (4 total)
Three-Year All-Conference Totals: 1 First-Team, 4 Second-Team, 9 Honorable Mention (14 total)
Returning All-Conference Players (1): G/DL Clayton Kopel (HM-OL), Sr.
Other Players To Watch: RB/LB/K Delnato Sheppard, Junior, Sr.; OL/DL Sam Bleich, Sr.; DB/QB Brandon Hall, Sr.; OL/DL Isiah Miller, Sr.; S/WR Jackson Syens, Sr.; QB/DB/K Brett Walker, Jr.; WR/LB Coltin Brandsma, Jr.; RB/DB Ryan Schultz, Jr.; OL/LB Matthew Miles, Jr.; T/DL Blayne Traut, Jr.; T/DL Jonah Stout, Jr.; OL/DL Anthony Ellis, Jr.; OL/DL Clyde Jacobson, So.; DL/TE Jaycen Simer, So.; WR/DB Isaac Paul, Fr.