PORTAL – For a quarter, the Portal Panthers looked locked in on offense.
After falling behind Jenkins County following a turnover on Portal’s second play from scrimmage, the Panthers embarked on a 16-play drive that covered 67 yards and chewed up 8:54 on the clock. They converted three third-downs and one fourth-down on the drive, which saw only one pass. It culminated with a Noah Adams eight-yard touchdown run to give the Panthers the lead.
From there, a lack of consistency and an overpowering running game from the War Eagles scoring 38 straight points en route to a 44-8 loss for the Panthers (0-3).
“At times, we looked pretty good,” said Portal Head Coach Matt Smith following the game. “But at other times we looked like we couldn’t even line up properly.”
Even with the strong first quarter drive, the game started ominously under a full moon for the Panthers. A fumbled snap on the second play was recovered by Jenkins County (1-2) and thee plays later, Brandon Goodman found the endzone on a five-yard run.
The War Eagles wasted no time on their second possession, going 61 yards in five plays to answer Portal’s score and take a lead they’d never relinquish.
Jenkins County closed out the first half with a 15-yard strike from quarterback Justin Gray to James Evans with less than a minute to go in the half.
Novel Wilson opened the second half for Jenkins County with a 47-yard touchdown run on the fifth play of the half, essentially putting the game out of reach for a Panther offense that was unable to mount a sustained drive after their lone score.
Later in the third, the Panthers appeared to catch a break as Wilson had a 41-yard touchdown run called back due to a holding penalty.
But it was not to be as on the next play, Gray found Evans again, this time from 49 yards out to give the War Eagles a 30-8 lead.
While there were relatively few penalties on the night, the game did get feisty as in the middle of the third quarter, a late hit out of bounds against the War Eagles on Panther running back Brian Ware resulted in Ware getting upset and going after the Jenkins County defender. Ware was assessed his own unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and ejected from the game. He finished the night with 65 yards on nine carries, leading the Panther offensive charge.
Smith said the focus for the upcoming week is to be more consistent in their performance.
Part of that, he said, may mean scaling back some of the plays the teams runs on offense.
“It’s better to do a few things and do them really well than to do several things and do none of them well,” he said.
Defensively, the Panthers will need to find a way to slow down their opponents’ running game. The War Eagles had 296 rushing yards on the night, led by Darren Burton’s 121 yards and Wilson’s 85.
The War Eagles had six different players score touchdowns on the night.
Despite the loss, Smith saw things he said the Panthers can build on going forward.
“We had a lot of kids who played hard all night. They were getting beat up out there, but they kept fighting and getting back out there to give it their all. It wasn’t a lack of effort tonight,” he said.
The Panthers travel to Twin City to face perennial power Emanuel County Institute next Friday, but Smith said it was too early to start focusing on that game.
“We’ve got to focus on what we can do and clean up our mistakes,” he said.