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Metter, Portal fight to stay unbeaten
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    PORTAL — Sometimes it is as simple as getting the ball from the center to the quarterback.
    As the 1-0 Portal Panthers prepared Wednesday for their meeting tonight against Metter (1-0), head coach David NeSmith supervised freshman quarterback Evan Street, who wasn’t going to leave practice until he had received 25 perfect snaps without a fumble. Or a bad bobble. Or any number of other less-than-perfect outcomes.
    It took a little while.
    “It’s about fundamentals,” NeSmith said while supervising the routine. “We have to eliminate mistakes. Eliminate turnovers. That’s how you get better.”
    The Panthers haven’t taken too much time to bask in their 9-0 win over county rival Southeast Bulloch last week. While winning always feels better than losing, the Panthers also lost starting quarterback Hunter Oglesby for the season in that game to a horrific knee injury. Portal also turned the ball over three times and managed only 98 yards of total offense.
    But they won.
    “It’s a lot easier to come in on Monday and fix ten million things you did wrong after a win than it is to come in and fix ten million things you did wrong after a loss,” NeSmith said.
    If there were plenty of bumps in the road for Portal in the opener, defense was not necessarily one of them. The Portal defense pitched a shutout against the Yellow Jackets in the opener and this week’s opponent, Metter, also runs a Wing-T based offense.
    NeSmith expects Metter coach Mike West to throw a few additional wrinkles at the Panthers when the Tigers have the ball on offense, but both teams tonight will look to control the game through offense and wear the opposing team down.
    The Panthers are hoping to reduce their turnovers and use the Wishbone offense to chew up yards and time on the clock. Cory Walker moves under center to play quarterback in place of Oglesby, but NeSmith said he hopes to get Street into the game as well.
    Walker also plays a key role on the defensive side of the ball for Portal. Against SEB, the senior made a number of nice plays and picked off a pair of passes. NeSmith hopes Street can give Portal’s most effective weapon a little time to rest.
    Hence the quest for 25 perfect snaps.
    “We need to keep [Metter] off the field as much as possible,” NeSmith said.
    While the spotlight goes rather predictably to the offensive side of the ball, Portal’s defense is likely to be the real key to success or failure against the Tigers. A week ago, the defense allowed just over 100 yards of offense and forced four turnovers.
    Much of the credit goes to Portal’s defensive front four of Isaiah Rich, Denzel Washington, Joseph Lockley and Galvin Hagins. After spending so many years coaching offensive linemen, NeSmith understands how tough the Portal front four can be. Like everything else, the line needs work, but the head coach sounds optimistic about the prospects on the defensive line.
    “We have a guy like Isaiah Rich, he has never even played football except in the back yard,” NeSmith said.
    That means no bad habits to break, right?
    “Yeah. A lot of kids pick up some things you have to fix,” NeSmith laughed. “Not him, though.”
    Portal will be looking to beat Metter for the first time since Ronald Reagan was president, but that streak is hardly the first thing on the minds of the Panthers.
    “If we can just chew up the clock and eliminate the mistakes, I feel good about our chances,” NeSmith said. “We want to get better. That’s what you want to do all season long, just keep improving.”