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Panthers aiming to pick up momentum
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    The Portal Panthers (0-3) wrap up a brutal stretch of four-straight Class AA matchups today on the road against Appling County.
    A combination of turnovers, being outmatched by the large rosters of teams from higher classifications and some key injuries have kept the Panthers from getting anything going so far this season, and PHS coach Justin Chester hopes to get a win against the Pirates before region play begins at Savannah Country Day Oct 5.
    “This is our last (game against) a AA school before we get to our region schedule,” said Chester, “and we would like to pull off a victory. That’s our goal tomorrow. To go down there to Baxley and minimize all the mistakes we’ve made up to this point — especially the turnover ratio — and just go out there, have fun and play solid football. We feel like we can pretty much match up with anybody.”
    Appling looks to take advantage of its size in the trenches to play some smash-mouth football. A running team with a big, physical offensive line, the Pirates will utilize fullback Chris Smith up the middle and mix it up from the wings with some misdirection. The Portal secondary will also have to be ready.
    “Against Screven County last week, we just broke down in the secondary, so we look for (Appling) to try to throw the deep ball on us too. We’ve got some athletes in the secondary who we know can make some plays for us.
    “It’s just one of those things where we really have to strap it on and be able to play as physical as we can, because they are really going to come after us and establish their offense. They have not put as many points on the board as they would like, so they are kind of ready to explode. We’re going to have to counteract that any way we can. I feel like we’ve got a good plan. The guys all week have worked hard. Now it’s just a matter of executing and getting the job done.”
    Although outmatched so far, Chester sees the benefit to playing these tough non-region teams. Running a similar offense to Region 3-A power Emanuel County Institute, Appling will give the Panthers a preview of things to come, and Chester expects to be ready down the road.
    Offensively, Portal will continue to run the triple option, utilizing guys like quarterback Steven Cox and running back Octavious Rawls to attack with speed from the backfield.
    Although PHS has yet to get in the win column, the Panthers have bought into the new system, and have not let up in practice.
    “Our guys are still practicing as hard as they were before we played game one,” said Chester. “The only thing is we need to pull out a victory for these guys to have something to pick their heads up. We are still fighting, and we are still correcting a lot of mistakes we make out there on the field. Last year, we went through the same situation, and we were able to settle down and make the playoffs. We’ve been using that as a motivational tool.”
    Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9404.