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Late drama powers Panthers into state title game
Flag football
Portal's Josie Motes (left) and Kiara Raymond celebrate during the Panthers' semifinal victory in the state flag football playoffs on Wednesday in Atlanta. - photo by JOSH AUBREY

The Portal Panther flag football team survived an over four-hour weather delay, a venue change and being down by six points with 10 seconds remaining in the game as they pulled off a miraculous 12-6 overtime victory over Pacelli in the GHSA state flag football Final-4 as they return to the state title game for the second straight season. 

Down 6-0 with less than 10 seconds remaining in the game Panther quarterback Emma Yates hit Blair Brannen alone in the corner of the end zone to tie the game at 6-6. The conversion failed and the two teams went to overtime. 

The overtime session allowed each team an opportunity to score from their opponents 15-yard line. The Panthers scored on the third play from scrimmage as Yates hit Brannen in the opposite corner of the end zone for a 12-6 lead. The Panther defense led by Jozie Motes, was hold the Vikings who were only able to get to the 12-yard line, and as their fourth down desperation pass fell to the ground the players, fans and coaches on the sidelines rushed the field in excitement. 

“What a crazy day with the weather and the venue change,” said Portal coach Jay Reddick. “I am so proud of this team for keeping things together and making the plays when they had to toady. It has been a wild season and we are so excited to be going back to the state championship.” 

The game started at the Home Depot Backyard Field which is located in Atlanta next to the Mercedes Benz Stadium at 12:30. The Vikings drove to the Panther 5-yard line but were unable to score on their opening possession. The Panthers got to the Pacelli 12-yard line but came up short on fourth down. With 8:00 left in the first half the game was delayed because of lightning in the area.  

Teams were sent to the parking lot, and at around 2:45 a decision was made through the GHSA to move the game to the practice field of the Atlanta United soccer team in Marietta for a 5:00 start. Both teams were given a chance to warm up and the game picked up with Pacelli having the ball at their own 12-yard line. 

Just before the half the Vikings put a drive together led by quarterback Tamiya Carter who had a few nice first down runs. With 22 seconds remaining in the half Carter was able to cross the goal line from 4-yards away to give Pacelli a 6-0 lead. The 1-point conversion failed and the Vikings took a 6-0 halftime lead. 

With the Panther defense struggling to contain Carter Reddick decided to move receiver Jozie Motes over to defense to light a spark. Motes came up with a few tremendous flag pulls and was able to shut Carter down the rest of the game. 

“I just felt we needed some kind of a change so we brough Jozie in and she made some huge pulls,” said Reddick. “She really helped us slow their quarterback down and that was a game changer.” 

The Panther offense got close a couple more times in the second half but failed to score on three chances inside the Viking 10-yard line. The defense kept them in the game and then on the final drive Yates completed passes to Kelsi Williams and Riley Lamb before finally hooking up with Brannen for the game trying touchdown. 

“I felt like we were so close so many times but just couldn’t punch it in,” said Reddick. “Emma played a really good game and made the throws when she had to. We had a few players banged up and Blair was one of the only options we had and she made a couple great catches at clutch moments in the game. I feel like our experience has really helped us so much this year. These girls have been here before and were ready when the moment presented itself.” 

With the win the Jackets advance to the title game Thursday at Center Parc Credit Union Stadium and will play the winner of Southeast Bulloch and Calvary. The two teams decided rather than play after the Panthers and Vikings they would play Tuesday night in Savannah at Calvary Day at 6:00. 

It wasn't fun leaving at 6:00 a.m. on a bus to drive to Atlanta excited to play and then watch some action only to see the weather come in and have to drive back to Brooklet without playing,” said SEB coach Nick Cochran. “Calvary is in the same boat though, so we can't control some things. 

“As far as playing Calvary they are defending state champs and undefeated this year so we know it will be a tough battle,” said Cochran. “We have battled through some tough games this year in our first year and just playing one game at a time.” 

“We can't look ahead but we are excited that Portal pulled out the victory,” said Cochran. “We kid around with Jay earlier in the year that it would be really neat to meet again this year because that means we are both in the state championship.”