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Area teams are on the upswing

Statesboro and Bulloch Academy have playoff games to prepare for this week, but there are a handful of other football teams around the area that are done for the season. Their postseason dreams may have disappeared in the final week of the regular season, but there is a bright future waiting for those players that will return next year.

Let’s begin with a quick trip up the road to Portal.

The Panthers reached the second round of the GHSA playoffs in 2005 and went to the first round the year after, but then fell on hard times. Portal endured three consecutive 1-9 seasons, and even its three wins in 2010 came too late to make any sort of push for the playoffs.

Usually, when an entire class or two passes through its high school career without success, it can mark a long road to any eventual recovery. That road wasn’t made any easier when Portal changed coaches in the middle of spring practice, but it picked the right man for the job in David NeSmith.

In his first season as a head coach at the varsity level, NeSmith excelled and got the most out of a squad that was short on numbers, but long on talent and desire.

Portal got off to a rough 1-3 start, but quickly turned it around and won five straight games to finish tied for the top spot in its sub-region. The Panthers reached the Region 3-A play-in round for the first time, but their luck finally ran out last week as they fell a win short of the state playoffs.

Next season, 15 seniors will have to be replaced, but the winning attitude that was rebuilt in Portal this season should serve as a great foundation for the next few years.

Shared nicknames aside, Metter and Claxton couldn’t be much more similar. The pair of Tigers squads have both risen from perennial doormat status five years ago to become legitimate threats in Region 3-A. Both have also made those big steps forward with balance — running and passing the ball effectively while improving with each season on the defensive side of the ball.

The season ended in disappointment for Claxton when it fell in the region play-in round for the fourth consecutive year, but although its seniors never made it to state, they certainly left the program much better than they found it.

In Metter, Mike West continued to get his squad turned around in his second year in charge. Metter shook off senior graduation at key offensive slots this season — even finding ways to improve its attack. The Tigers lost to Claxton for a second straight year to miss out on the play-in round, but fans can look forward to more growth and a more experienced team next season.

Then, there was the biggest shocker of them all.

Fresh off of an 0-10 campaign in 2010 — and stuck in the stacked eastern division of Region 3-A — Bryan County was an afterthought, if that, entering this season. But then the Redskins won their season opener. Then they won another. And another. And another.

Bryan County fell short in its play-in game last week, but not before compiling a 6-4 record — the Redskins’ best showing since 1991 and just the third winning record in school history.

After enduring a winless first season at the helm of the Redskins, BCHS coach Mark Wilson did a tremendous offseason job of keeping his team’s spirit up, making some adjustments to the game plan, and — even with a young and inexperienced team — give the Redskins’ rivals in one of the most competitive regions in Class-A a run for their money.

All in all, the power on the football field seems to be shifting back toward Bulloch and surrounding counties.

Each of the schools featured here can look forward to similar success next season, and other teams — such as Southeast Bulloch and Screven County — are definitely on the right track in their rebuilding efforts. With the GHSA set for another round of realignment next season and the addition of a new classification, early indications also show that both schools will likely benefit from their new regions.

And so, for as long as they can last, all eyes will be on the Blue Devils and Gators as they soldier on in search of a state title. They’ll get all of the attention in the coming weeks, but might have some company to share the spotlight with come playoff time next season.


Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9408.