PORTAL — At the conclusion of their games, the Portal Panther football team gathers with the cheerleaders in front of the marching band to sing the school’s alma mater. Following Thursday night’s 28-23 win against Robert Toombs Christian Academy, a spontaneous chant broke out among the students, band and fans who were there.
“Three and Oh! Three and Oh!”
There is certainly reason for excitement among the Panther faithful as Portal hasn’t started a season 3-0 since 2005. In fact, during the previous four years, the Panthers have only won three games combined.
“We’re extremely proud of the fact we're 3-0,” said Head Coach Jason McEachin. “In two of those three wins, the fourth quarter comeback against Hawkinsville and the fourth quarter come-from-behind win right here, those are statement wins for our program. Having two hard fought, fourth quarter victories where we learned to fight through adversity and that we can do it will only pay off as we go.”
A two-hour weather delay resulted in the game kicking off at almost 8:30 p.m. instead of the scheduled 6:30 kickoff for a Thursday night game.
When the game finally did start, Portal wasted little time jumping out. On the second play of the game, junior quarterback Elijah Coleman showed off his elusiveness and quickness as he was able to break free for the first of his three rushing touchdowns on the night. This one was a 52-yard score.
Robert Toombs answered with a field goal to cut the lead to 7-3.
The Panthers answered early in the second quarter. Taking over on the RTCA 47, Portal drove down to the two-yard line on five plays with the biggest being a 34-yard reception by Amir Jackson on the series’ opening play. Coleman was able to punch it in from two yards out to extend the Portal lead to 14-3.
The ensuing kickoff saw Portal pooch kick it and when the Crusaders failed to catch it, the Panthers were able to pounce on the ball at the RTCA 34 yard line.
One play later, Coleman found Jackson open behind the defense for a 34-yard touchdown pass to give Portal their second touchdown in 10 seconds and give the Panthers a 21-3 lead.
Robert Toombs answered with a touchdown of their own, cutting the lead to 21-10 at halftime.
While Portal’s explosive offense struggled to put together any consistent drives in the third and early fourth quarter, the Crusaders were able to put a pair of touchdowns on the board and had a 23-21 lead with 8:30 remaining in the game.
The Panthers took over on their own 35-yard line and after two plays had moved up to their own 46. That’s when Coleman’s magic showed up again.
He was pressured and able to elude a couple Crusader defenders as he took off down the right sideline. He was able find a seam and cut back across the field, outrunning the RTCA defense and able to make it to the end zone just before being caught. Jose Sanchez’s fourth extra point of the night gave Portal the 28-23 lead.
Robert Toombs looked to respond and was able to get near midfield. On a first down play, Mayson Lane was able to read the quarterback and pick off his pass, all but sealing the win for the Panthers.
“Mayson did a great job of dropping to his spot in coverage and made a great play and almost took it back for a touchdown,” McEachin said. “He’s just a sophomore who is still learning how to play for us. He got a lot of minutes tonight and made a huge play when it counted.”
Coleman finished the night with 152 yards rushing on 15 carries and another 69 yards through the air, accounting for all four touchdowns. Landon Ross added 45 yards on the ground on 11 carries for the Panthers.
“We are an explosive offense,” McEachin said. “We can score on one play or we can go on a long drive. The issue tonight for our offense is that we didn’t have the ball very much. They had the ball a whole lot more that we did that that keeps you from getting into a flow.”
For nearly two hours it looked like the game might not be played. Thunderstorms rolled through the area forcing the players to the locker rooms and fans to their vehicles to wait out the delays. At one point, the teams were one minute away from starting before the lightning siren went off, forcing the stadium to be evacuated again.
“I was certain three different times that we weren’t going to play tonight,” McEachin said. “We kept hanging on just long enough to be able to get it in.” He said they tried to keep the team entertained by putting movies on while they waited out the storm.
The Panthers travel to Pembroke on Friday to face Bryan County as they try to extend their winning streak.