PORTAL – Midway through the second quarter, Portal found itself keeping pace with Calvary Day School, one of the top teams in Region 3A-A. Trailing by only a touchdown, the Panthers defense had slowed the Cavaliers’ offense and were one big play away from tying the game.
Unfortunately for the Panthers (1-7, 0-4), it was the Cavaliers who came up with two big plays in about two minutes to turn a close contest into a rout as Portal fell, 38-0.
Trailing 7-0 with a little more than six minutes to go in the second quarter, the Panthers were forced to punt. Calvary Day’s Nye’ Grant fielded the punt at midfield and was able to weave his way through the Portal kick coverage to give the Cavaliers (7-1, 4-1) a two-touchdown lead.
On their next possession, Portal was again forced to punt and this time Grant didn’t have a chance to return the kick. That’s because it was blocked and Greg Daniel was able to scoop it up at the Panthers’ 18 and run untouched into the endzone.
“Ninety percent of the time I thought we played really well,” Portal Head Coach Matt Smith said following the game. “The problem tonight was when we made mistakes, we didn’t just shoot ourselves in the foot but we made catastrophic mistakes.”
The big plays by the Cavaliers’ special teams overshadowed an excellent defensive performance by the Panthers’ defense in the first half. Portal held the explosive Calvary Day offense to 118 yards in the half, most of that coming on the Cavaliers’ opening drive in which they went 81 yards in seven plays.
That drive culminated when Kaleb Park hauled in a Thomas Carver 30-yard pass to put Calvary Day up 7-0.
The Calvary Day offense was able to add field goal as time expired in the first half after driving 49 yards in 34 seconds keyed by a Jalen Leary catch and run for 42 yards.
In between those drives, the Calvary Day offense struggled to move the ball, though the Panthers did benefit from a holding call that negated a would be Cavaliers’ touchdown.
Offensively, Portal struggled to move the ball in the first half, amassing 67 total yards, all of which came on the ground. Quarterback Connor Washington was 0-8 passing in the half, though he had several passes that appeared catchable but wasn’t quite able to connect on.
The Panthers finished the night with 132 yards on the ground, but were only able to complete one pass, and that was a throwback to Washington that resulted in a five-yard loss.
“I’m really proud of our kids,” Smiths said. They kept playing hard and kept competing no matter what the score was. Unfortunately, when things broke down, they really broke down for us.”
Calvary Day added two scores in the third quarter, one on a Jalen Leary 45-yard run on the first play of the second half and another on a Rocco Griffin two-yard run.
Griffin’s score was set up by the Cavaliers’ second blocked punt of the night.
“We had some trouble with our punt snaps tonight and that put us in some tough situations,” Smiths said.
Offensively, Washington led the Panther attack with 68 yards rushing on 19 carries. Fullback Jalen Williams added 38 yards on only six carries.
Despite the final score, Smith was encouraged by his team’s performance, especially on defense.
“Our defense hasn’t played bad all year,” he said. “We’ve given up a lot of points at times, but a lot of that is our offense not being able to get going or, tonight, it was because our special teams put us in bad spots.”
The Panthers only dressed 25 players for the game as injuries have depleted an already thin roster, forcing many players go practically never come out of the game. A running clock was instituted at the start of the second half, with the clock only stopping for timeouts and the two scores by the Cavaliers.
Portal will host McIntosh County next Friday for Senior Night.