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Panthers working on curing turnover bug
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    PORTAL — Turnovers and injuries have played a huge part in Portal’s 0-4 start, but for the Panthers, coming off of a bye week and heading into the first game of region play has been the fresh start the players and fans have been looking for.
    “This is where it all starts,” said PHS coach Justin Chester. “It is region play, and everything up to this point has been just to kind of fine tune the system. … We are very fortunate that our week off came when it did. After losing four straight games to four very good football games, we get a break right before region play — our ‘new season’ like we’re calling it.”
    The off week has allowed the Panthers to rest their banged up o-line and back field, and the team is as healthy as it has been since the start of the season.
    The turnover problem, on the other hand, has been an issue in each of the first four games. Portal has coughed up the football 18 times so far, so it used the break to address the issue.
    Along with reps from the center to sure up the exchange on the snap, quarterbacks, running backs and even wide receivers have been subjected to drill after drill enforcing the importance of holding on to the football.
    “What we’ve done a little bit is the old handoff drill,” said Chester. “We’ve got every skill player involved, just to really focus on that. The gauntlet –— we’ve done that a lot here lately.”
    In the gauntlet, players take the handoff as they go through the line of scrimmage and barrel through a tunnel of players who are trying to strip the ball. Proper technique in taking the handoff and carrying the football are crucial.
    “If you know that’s happening, you’ll have more focus to protect it like you’re supposed to,” Chester said. “It’s a no-win situation when you turn it over, and I really hope I don’t see any (tonight). It’s pretty obvious that the only team that has been stopping us is ourself.”
    Up-downs after turnovers are used after practice to drive the point home.
    Aside from cutting down on the turnovers, Portal will have to execute its new triple-option offense almost flawlessly in tonight’s game at Savannah Country Day (2-3, 1-0 Region 3-A) at 7:30 p.m.
    The Panthers will use the running game to attack the 5-3 Hornet defense, and with quick SCDS guys on the end of the line and quick linebackers anticipating the run, it will be speed-vs-speed. The blocking around the corners will be the key to establishing the run.
    “(The Hornet) defensive line is very deceiving,” said Chester. “You see those guys and think, ‘Gosh, they’re not that big.’ But they just get after it. They’re fundamentally sound, they play hard and they do their assignment. They don’t try to be heroes. All 11 guys do their assignment so well, and that’s why they have such a competitive team.”
    The Portal defense will have to deal with a spread out running game with a QB and running back that can both run out of the backfield.
    Halfback John Moesch is the go-to guy in the Savannah Country Day offense, but quarterback Craig Novak can make good reads and rack up some yards on the ground as well.
    Coming off of a region-opening 21-20 win over Bryan County, SCDS will be looking to pick up where they left off last season when they beat Portal 31-0.
    The winless Panthers are in familiar territory right now. They have made the playoffs each of the last three years, and in 2006, it was after a 0-5 start. Portal looks to kick off region play on the right foot this time around, and with all five region games left on the schedule, the Panthers are in control of their own destiny.
    “One thing that I do like,” said Chester, “is that our young men keep coming back and fighting. There’s no ‘quit’ mentality with us.
    “We are a very close football family. We know what we have to do, and that is to have tremendous effort each time we get a chance to play. Hopefully everything will come together for us.”

    Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9404.