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Party at Portal - Panthers romp Calvary
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    PORTAL – The Portal Panthers (1-7, 1-3 Region 3-AA) celebrated homecoming in style as they amassed 399 yards of total offense and demolished the visiting Calvary Day Cavaliers (1-6, 1-3) 52-29 in front of an excited PHS crowd.
    “It feels so sweet,” said Portal coach Justin Chester, whose family has gone through a lot with the passing of his mother and grandmother-in-law. “God has given us a lot of strength this week, especially for me and my wife Sarah. … It’s been real tough, but I am so thankful to have the coaching staff that I do. Each and every one of them has stepped up for me and has really pulled their weight and kept these guys going.
    Calvary didn’t waste any time getting things started as Adam Burns took the opening kickoff 45 yards down to the Portal 35-yard line. Five plays later, CDS quarterback Trice Thornton connected with receiver Sims Dowdy on a 20 yard touchdown pass.
    The Panthers responded immediately, putting together an eight-play, 52-yard drive that stayed on the ground and was highlighted by an 11-yard touchdown scamper on a keeper by quarterback Octavious Rawls. Rawls (13 carries, 161 yards, 3 TDs) could not punch it in on the two-point attempt, leaving the Panthers trailing 7-6, but he carried the ball four times for 43 yards in the series.
    Portal went on to put up 14 more un-answered points – on a 10-yard run by fullback Travis Budgett and a 59-yard run by Rawls that put PHS up 20-7 – before the Cavs were able to put together another drive.
    Calvary cut the Portal lead to 20-14 when Burns punched it in from one yard out to cap off a 12-play, 70 yard drive.
    The Panthers were once again quick to respond when Justin Raymond took the ensuing kickoff 91 yards to the house. Steven Cox ran in the two-point conversion to put PHS up 28-14.
    “Once we got a little momentum, we built on that,” Chester said. “(Raymond) can make a big play at any time. He’s a track star, and he showed it on that run.”
    The Portal defense held Calvary to three-and-out three times in the first half, the last one setting up Budgett’s (8 carries, 77 yards, 2 TDs) second first-half touchdown – this time from nine yards out - and sending the Panthers to the locker room with a 34-14 lead.
    “I am so proud of these seniors, offensively and defensively,” said Chester. “Everyone of them made some big plays for us.”
The Cavaliers appeared to be fired up entering the third quarter. After forcing Portal to go three-and-out, the Panther’s first punt of the game, CDS marched 56 yards and scored on a two-yard run by Dowdy.
    The Calvary defense could not shut down Portal’s running game after that. Rawls scrambled in from 15 yards out and later handed off to Shane Northcutt on a reverse. Northcutt ran it in from 22 yards out. Both two-point attempts failed, but the two scores put Portal up 46-21.
    Any attempt of a comeback was cut short. Calvary was able to score on a 1-yard run by Thornton and a two-point conversion brought them to 46-29. They recovered the ensuing onside kick, but second-half interceptions by Cox, Tony Mikell and Casey Ware and a fumble recovery by Dan Ferris squashed any hope for a Calvary comeback.
     Joseph Ware put the icing on the cake when – on his only carry of the game – he took a handoff, broke three tackles and ran it in from 29 yards out to put the Panthers up 52-29.
    The offensive explosion may have come at the right time, with the Panthers taking on 3-AA powerhouse Emanuel County – arguably the top team in the state - next Friday on the road.
    “We’ve been lacking some confidence on the offensive side of the ball,” said Chester. “We’ve really got to work hard next week in practice to take on the best (Class A) team in Georgia.”

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