The Portal Panther flag football team’s storybook season didn’t have the happy ending the Panthers wanted, but they put up a heck of a fight before finally falling 6-0 in the state championship Monday to Calvary Day at Center Parc Credit Union Stadium in Atlanta.
A simple case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time could have cost the Panthers a potential victory. With just over two minutes left in the game on fourth and 19, quarterback Emma Yates aired a pass out to Brianna Milton. The ball was tipped by the Cavaliers' Hannah Cail, and Milton caught it just before the ball hit the ground and went 39-yards for the touchdown.
The celebration was short lived though, as the touchdown was called back due to an illegal contact penalty as a Panther player who did not appear to be making a block was in a position that impeded the defender from making a tackle. The Panthers were able to convert on the very next play, but with just over a minute to go', Yates pass to Kelci Williams was intercepted by a leaping Neveah Hamilton at the five-yard line, and the Cavs were then able to run out the clock.
“We just weren’t able to get anything going on offense, and if you can’t score it’s tough to win,” said Portal Coach Jay Reddick. “What we had drawn up just didn’t work today. Whether it was a bad throw, or ran the wrong route, it just didn’t work out.”
The Panthers had a great chance to start the scoring just before the end of the first half. A double pass from Kelci Williams to Riley Lamb, was followed by completions from Yates to Brianna Milton and Blair Brannen. Yates then hit Riley Lamb on a 25-yard pass play to the 16-yard line. A defensive holding penalty moved the ball to the Calvary 8-yard line. The Panthers attempted four passes into the end zone, but were unable to connect, leaving the game scoreless at the half.
In the second half Calvary marched all the way down to the panther five-yard line. A sack by the Panthers Mellinee West pushed it back o fourth and seven, and the fourth down attempt was incomplete.
The Panthers then went three and out, and the Cavs Mahkayla Premo returned the ensuing punt to the Portal 22-yard line. Facing third and goal from the nine Calvary quarterback Hannah Cail hit a wide-open Katie Ellenwood in the end zone for the touchdown. The conversion failed, and Calvary had a 6-0 lead.
Portal threatened a few times, but the Panther deep ball air assault that had helped get them into the state championship, was just not working Monday afternoon.
“They did a good job of keeping the deep ball away from us today,” said Reddick. “We took a lot of shots down field but it just didn't work out today.”
One of the reasons it may not have worked was the fact that Calvary was well aware of the Panthers ability to throw the ball deep. Portal and Calvary play in the same region and tied 6-6 earlier this year.
“We knew Portal could throw and catch the ball,” said Calvary Coach Chad Griffin. “They have a lot of athletic girls who play softball and basketball. We just knew if we could keep all their passes in front of us, and limit their big plays we would have a chance to win.”
The talent in Portal’s region was evident in the fact that not only did Portal and Calvary advance to the state championship, but four teams from their region made it to the state quarterfinals.
“We have one of the toughest regions in the state,” said Griffin. “ There is a lot of talent down in southeast Georgia, and when four teams from the same region make it to the quarterfinals, and then two face off in the championship game, you know we were battle tested.”
Despite losing the game, the good news for the Panthers is they only lose one senior off this year’s team, and Reddick is hopeful that other girls will be inspired by the Panthers run, and may want to join them next year.
“We aren’t happy finishing second, but we will go back and get to work on things we can improve on for next year,” said Reddick. “We lose a great player in Brianna Milton, but everyone else will be back. This was a great opportunity for out team to make it to the championship game in our first year. I am sure they will be a lot mor players to join the 14 we have coming back next year.”