What a difference a week makes.
The Tri County Panthers, Portal’s semi-professional football team, won for the first time this season — a 57-0 blowout against the Charleston (S.C.) Hawks Saturday night at Portal High.
Coming off a sloppy 47-10 loss in their home opener to the Hinesville Hurricanes, the Panthers (1-1-1) looked like a resurrected football team.
Panthers coach Steven Singleton said he sent his team back to learning the basics after the loss to the Hurricanes.
“We looked at the film and we saw the mistakes that we made. Guys weren’t blocking like they were supposed to so we went back to the basics,” said Singleton.
Quarterback Akeem Frison led the way for the Panthers. He completed only one of his five pass attempts but the one completion was a 35-yard touchdown reception. Frison’s number was called almost every play last week and instead of reusing that game plan, Frison became an effective game manager and either handed the ball off or took it on the run himself.
The Panthers’ defense set the tone for the game by landing several vicious hits and collecting four turnovers along the way.
The Panther running game also turned in a solid performance, with the combination of James Howard, Eric McGlamery and Frison totaling more than 150 yards.
As they did last week against the Hurricanes, the Panthers came out strong and scored on their second offensive series of the game. After four running plays, with running back Howard and fullback McGlamery sharing the duties, the Panthers kicked a field goal to go up 3-0 with 8:46 left in the first quarter.
Unlike last week, the score would set the tone for the rest of the game as the Panthers scored their first touchdown of the game three minutes later. With first and goal, Frison tossed the ball left to Howard, who ran it in six yards for the score to make it 10-0.
The Panthers tacked on 21 more points in the half, as running back Anthony Scott took a reverse nine yards at the 14:06 mark in the second quarter, Frison hit Howard on a slant for 35 yards and, with 16 seconds left, Larry Badger took a direct snap and ran it in to make it 31-0 going into the half.
The second half brought more of the same for the Panthers, as they never took their foot off the gas. Solid defensive line play combined with a strong running game proved to be the difference.
The game also featured two coaches’ challenges. In the first half, coach Singleton threw his red flag when the referees ruled a personal foul on a Panther defensive back for a horse collar.
The rules are in accordance with the NFL and because so, a video replay was awarded. A hand-held camcorder was used to review the play and the call was upheld.
In the fourth quarter, Panthers defensive back Demetrius Mercer ripped the ball out of the hands of a Hawks receiver and returned the ruled interception for a touchdown.
The Hawks’ head coach promptly threw his challenge flag and after a referee review, the play was upheld and the score remained 57-0.
In the second half, the Panthers were shut out in the third quarter but played strong in the fourth, tallying 26 points. Howard scored on a 3-yard run and a 19-yard run, Mercer had the interception return and Topny McCoy recovered a Hawks fgumble and returned it 20 yards for the final touchdown of the game.
When asked what the biggest difference was between the team’s loss and Saturday’s win, Singleton made it clear that attendance was key.
“(The difference was) More guys coming to practice. We had more guys show up to practice and actually get in to practice,” said Singleton. “I think before, in our first 10-15 weeks, we got stale. I think they realized we are better team than we were last week.”
Singleton also ensured that the victory is not a sign that his team has passed the test, but more of a building block.
“They need to enjoy the victory tonight, but tomorrow it’s a rap. We start all over again. We start in practice, back to the basics. We start all over from scratch with everyone looking at the plays and learning their blocks,” said Singleton.
The Panthers look to continue their success next Saturday against the Assassins at Portal High at 7 p.m.For more information please visit the Panthers on the web at www.leaguelineup.com/tricountypanthers