PORTAGE | Welcome back, Hashim Simpson.
The Portage senior running back, sidelined for the first five games of the season as he recovered from a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in January, returned with a bang Friday against Chesterton.
Simpson rambled for touchdowns of 9, 3 and 2 yards in the game's first 13:44, and he added another from the 3 in the third quarter to lead the Indians (3-3, 2-2) to a 45-14 Duneland Athletic Conference victory over mistake-riddled Chesterton.
"It was real frustrating, especially the games we lost, not being able to do anything but sit on the sideline and watch," Simpson said. "(The doctor) didn't want me to play at all this season, but we were pushing and he said he'd let me come back at seven months and (Friday) was seven months. I've been working hard to try to get myself ready."
Simpson was ready for a heavy workload, despite the long layoff, toting the ball 30 times for 122 yards.
"I have no problem with getting the ball. I'm a running back," he said. "Physically, I felt good, but I felt like I played a little scared because of the ACL. I'll get better at it when I relax."
Gage Pearman set up the first score with a 48-yard keeper on a read option. Portage got the ball right back at the Chesterton 11 when Cole Teal's pass to Avery Beeks was ruled backward, making it a fumble, and was recovered by Portage's Zac Chandler. Simpson scored for the second time at 8:47. He made it three TDs early in the second quarter, capping a 62-yard march after Kenyota Rollins stripped Teal and recovered the loose ball on fourth and 1 at the Portage 38.
"He was hungry, being on the shelf a long period of time," Portage coach Wally McCormack said of Simpson. "The best part was seeing him smile."
Portage rushed for 244 yards with Pearman adding 70.
"With Hashim back, we can do some different things with Nathan Cherry, put him in the slot and have two tailbacks on the field," McCormack said.
Rollins also stopped Teal at the Portage 1 late in the first half on fourth and goal. Teal threw for 149 yards and a touchdown, a 9-yarder to Beeks, but completed just seven of 19 passes, scrambling for his life against Portage's pass rush. He was also intercepted by Lorenzo Wells, who added a muffed kickoff recovery. Chesterton (3-3, 2-2) managed just 105 yards rushing, 37 of those coming on one broken-tackle play by Tyler Gillespie.
"They're tough with what they do," McCormack said. "Their line splits are so big. Teal's athletic enough to extend plays. We didn't do a lot on defense. They get so many chunks of yards, we just tried to keep them in front of us and make them to continue to snap the ball. That increased the odds of something happening in our favor. We did a good job of getting pressure on (Teal) to keep his feet moving and get him out of the pocket."
Portage has seven stops for negative yardage, including a botched punt snap. Chesterton fumbled seven times, losing four, two of them coming on mishandled kickoffs.
"We got the ball on a short field several times, and we were able to take advantage," McCormack said. "If that happens, you're going to win."
Pearman added a 14-yard scoring pass to Cody Maldonado with 6:40 left after Chesterton drew within 28-14. Nathan Johnson connected on a 42-yard field goal and Avery Sanders blasted in from the 2 to cap the scoring.
"If I can do well, it'll open things up for the pass," Simpson said.
The point total was Portage's most in a DAC game since Oct. 6, 2006, when it hung 51 on Valparaiso in Craig Buzea's last season as Indians coach.