Last season the Portal Panthers were the only area team to field a flag football team as they advanced to the state title game in Atlanta and ended up as state runners-up. This year Statesboro and Southeast Bulloch joined the Panthers and all three played in the same region in Class-1.
The GHSA has broken flag football into three classes with Class-1 consisting primarily of Class-A through 4-A, Class-2 being 5-A and 6-A schools and Class-3 consisting of schools that play in 7-A. Statesboro was granted Class-1 status even though the Blue Devils play in 6-A.
All three schools will be kicking off the postseason Tuesday evening as Southeast Bulloch hosts multiple teams at Fred Shaver Field beginning at 5 p.m. Portal hits the road for Columbus and Statesboro will be taking on the defending state champs Calvary Day in Savannah.
For the No. 2 ranked Yellow Jackets it’s been a pretty remarkable run as they enter the postseason as the No. 1 seed and have an undefeated 14-0 season, including a mark of 5-0 in region play. While the Jackets players have come together quickly coach Nick Cochran says much of the success can be attributed to the time they put in over the summer.
“We had a lot of girls who were really excited about the program and we got them together in June,” said Cochran. “We had 20 or 30 girls come out and we really went over all the rules of flag football with them and tried to get an idea of who could help us more on offense, and who may be able to be better on defense.”
The Jackets had over 40 girls come go out for the team and ended up keeping 24. While many schools waited for their softball players to finish before starting the season, the Jackets got things started as quickly as they could and have slowly worked in the softball players.
“We felt like it was important for us to get as many games under our belt as we could,” said Cochran. "Many teams have only played five or six games, but we have managed to play 14. ”
Among the multiple sport stars on the Jackets that are making a name for themselves is junior quarterback Ansleigh Littles, who has thrown for over 900 yards and rushed for over 400 yards and has accounted for 23 touchdowns this season. Littles' favorite target this year is sophomore Alex Odom who has over 500 yards receiving.
On defense the Jackets have been led by sophomore Addie Hood who has 10 interceptions, while softball standout Alana Barnard has made a quick impact with six interceptions in only six games this year.
“I think what has made us so successful is we have 23 players who can catch, run and pull flags,” said Cochran. “There is no drop off from player to player so they can rotate in and stay fresh. Our whole team is athletic and they have all been eager to learn and are very coachable.”
The Jackets will host the opening round of the playoffs which consists of four teams at one location playing a total of three games. SEB will play Jenkins at 5 p.m. followed by Northside Columbus and South Atlanta squaring off at 6:15. The two winners will play afterward.
For the Portal Panthers it’s been a challenging year two as a Class-A school having to play against much bigger schools. That is coupled with the fact that most of their players were on the softball team which advanced to the second round of the state playoffs, delaying the start of the flag football season.
“The success of the softball team delayed our start and prevented us from getting any substantial practice in,” said coach Jay Reddick. “It took several games before our offense started clicking but for some reason, we've still had trouble catching the ball this year. We also lost our starting center to an injury and that is an important position in flag football.”
Portal has been led offensively this season by junior quarterback Emma Yates who has thrown for over 600 yards and eight touchdowns. The Panthers top two receivers have been Blair Brannen with 201 yards and five touchdowns while Jozie Motes has 124 yards receiving and three scores. While the offense has been up and down Reddick has been pleased with the defense.
“Defense is the strong point of the team this year,” said Reddick. “We have been very consistent and haven't given up more than a touchdown defensively in any game this season.”
The Panthers finished the season with a record of 5-1 overall and 4-1 in region play with their lone loss being a 14-0 setback to Southeast Bulloch. Reddick is hoping the Panthers playoff experience helps them as they begin the postseason on the road at Harris County.
“Many of our girls played last year so they know what it takes to advance in the state playoffs,” said Reddick. “Hopefully being in those high-pressure games last year will help them be more relaxed and confident this year.”
The Panthers will play Beach in the opening game at 5:30 followed by Harris County and Washington (Atlanta). The two winners will play game three at approximately 7:30.
Statesboro may be the largest school in our area but that hasn't resulted in large numbers on the field yet. SHS went 2-5 overall and 2-3 in region play, but coach Bob Massee is happy with the progress.
“I feel like it started off as just something fun for the girls to do,” said Massee. “As the season has progressed you see things get a little more competitive and that makes the girls want to turn things up a bit.”
Massee is hoping to get even more players out next season and to build some chemistry with summer practices when available.
“A lot of teams put in work over the summer and I think we got behind by not doing that,” said Massee. “I feel like other girls are seeing us playing and wish they may have gone out for flag football and I am hoping our numbers can really increase next season.”
The Blue Devils get things underway against Calvary at 5:00 in Savannah Tuesday, followed by LaGrange and Mt. Vernon with the winners playing at around 7:00.