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Panthers welcome Tigers in region showdown

It's homecoming tonight at Portal, and head coach Justin Chester and his Panthers know a loss for homecoming isn't acceptable.
    "This is a huge ball game," said Chester. "There's nothing worse than a sour homecoming."
    The Panthers (1-5, 1-1) welcome Claxton (2-4-1, 2-1) into the Portal Athletic Complex for a game heavy with region 3-A playoff implications.
    Portal's 21-13 win over Bryan County last week in Pembroke may have been a turning point for PHS. The Panthers scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns after having been shutout in the final frame the previous five games this season. The performance propelled Portal to its first victory of the year.
    "They didn't hang their heads, and they could have," said Chester. "After all that's happened to them this season it was something they could have done, but they didn't."
    Claxton's second half against Emanuel County Institute last week went in the other direction. After trailing by just eight at halftime, the Bulldogs of ECI  came out in the second half and dropped 34 on the Tigers.
    "They went to another level," said Claxton head coach Allen Cartwright of the No. 1 ranked team in the state. "Ultimately, we played to our capabilities but we're just not at their level yet. We know we still have a lot to play for and I think the biggest thing is how our kids respond from that loss."
    How they respond from the injury bug will be key as well. Linebacker Tra Bacon is likely out for the season with a fractured foot and running back Adrian Brewton is still awaiting word on his status. Cartwright said there may be ligament damage to the junior's knee.
    Between the lines, Chester said the Panthers will definitely have to key on one guy: Delvin Diggs.
    "He's the best back we've seen all year," said Chester of the senior. "We've tried to simulate him with our scout team, but until you see him on Friday night, there's just no comparison. We just have to contain him and keep him out of the endzone."
    Chester was also complimentary of the Claxton staff. The first-year head coach spent time under Cartwright as an assistant and also worked with defensive coordinator Cherrard Freeman and assistant Patrick Hendrix.
    "(Coach Cartwright) taught me a lot about football and coaching," said Chester. "Claxton is a well-coached team and morale is high over there right now. Coach Cartwright is in the process of making them a championship program."
    Claxton has won two of its last three and is sitting at third place in region play. The Tigers aren't adding any more importance to tonight than there already is.
    "Every week and every game has the same importance because it is the next game," said Cartwright. He added stopping and limiting the big play will be key if the Tigers are to come away with a win.
    Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m.

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