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Panthers hope to win one for Chester

    PORTAL — The winless Portal Panthers have had a tough go of it so far in 2007, but for PHS, quitting has not crossed its mind.
    Aside from the on-the-field struggles — turnovers, lack of production and new schemes and philosophies throughout the season — coach Justin Chester has had to deal with losses in his family. The Panthers feel that it is one more reason to continue to work harder. The town and the team have rallied around their coach.
    “It has been a very emotional week for us,” said Tendai Haggins, the acting head coach in Chester’s place. “This team is trying to do the best it can. Hopefully, we will come out (tonight against Calvary Day) and play a solid football game in honor of coach Chester, his wife, her mom and the family, and just have a good showing.”
    Facing a different defensive scheme every week has been tough on the Panthers, so they have decided that they need to start playing for themselves.
    “We need to take care of Portal and play for four quarters,” said Haggins. “Don’t give up the big plays, and really establish the offense. The last several ballgames, we really haven’t had the ball much the first half. We’ve got to get some positive yardage and give our kids some momentum, something to feed off of.”
    The Portal offense has offered many different looks so far this season. Starting out with Steven Cox at quarterback and running the triple option, it has evolved into a spread philosophy, lining up in shotgun and I-formation looks in order to better distribute the ball to the team’s playmakers.
    Running back Octavious Rawls has been added to the equation at quarterback, and will split time with Cox as the signal caller.
    “Once we started going to this spread stuff,” said offensive coordinator Grayson Huskins, “right now, he’s our quarterback. … Primarily, we’ve got him there because he’s our best running back, and we want him to touch the ball every play. He may hand it one play, and he may keep it another, but the defense has to know that every play he’s going to have the football in his hands.”
    With Cox gaining progress as the team’s best passer throughout the season, Rawls has been working hard to improve on his arm. The duel threat in the passing game is another wrinkle the Panthers feel will put them in a position for success on the offensive side of the ball.
    “(Rawls) and Steven will rotate some,” said Huskins. “We’ve been working on Cox throwing the ball with Octavious throwing the ball. He’s gotten a lot better at practice. He can throw it.”
    The new-look Panthers are still looking for the first win of 2007, and tonight against Calvary — homecoming at Portal — they are determined to turn the season around. The Cavaliers have had a similar season as PHS, experimenting with some option to try and get their playmaker — running back Bubba Green — the football. Portal feels as though this is a matchup that can begin the turnaround.
    The Panthers have a lot to play for tonight. With the playoffs out of the picture, the PHS coaching staff has instilled in its team that it has a choice to make. Now is the time to lay down or try and finish the season on a high note.
    “The season’s not over,” said Haggins. “We’re going to take it a game at a time, and try to build from week to week. We’re not going to lay down here in Portal, and we’re not going to let the kids lay down. If they start laying down here in high school, they’re going to have a long life ahead of them when they hit the real world.”
    Homecoming kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. tonight at Portal Stadium.

    Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9404.

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