PORTAL — You could say that the Portal Panthers came out like a house on fire Friday night in their showdown with Claxton. You can also say that house fires are seldom good news.
The Panthers started strong and fought against a bigger, deeper and more athletic football team but ultimately fell short in a 34-15 loss that moves the squad to 0-3 on the young season.
Claxton’s Michael Peel threw three touchdown passes and hauled in another one as a receiver to lead Claxton past the Panthers. Peel tossed the ball for 122 yards as Claxton overcame a determined bunch of Portal Panthers who soon tired as they played both offense and defense.
If the first quarter was any indication, a Portal team with a full tank of gas is pretty good. The Panthers forced a fumble on Claxton’s second play from scrimmage and converted it into a Hunter Oglesby touchdown to start off the game up 7-0.
Claxton scratched back to 7-6 when Peel hit Bron Glover with an 18-yard touchdown pass, but Portal’s defense was more out of position on that play than exhausted.
Glover and Peel switched places on Claxton’s next drive, with the running back taking the snap in a “Wildcat” formation and throwing to the quarterback Peel, who had lined up as a receiver. Still, the Panthers were only down 12-7 after Claxton failed to convert on a 2-point play.
The Panthers went three-and-out on their next series and saw Claxton drive the ball 11 plays before Peel hit Shanquez Denson with a 22-yard pass to go up 18-7. Before the half was over, it was 24-7.
The re-energized Panthers came out swinging in the second half but were undone by turnovers. Portal coughed up the ball five times in the game, three of those turnovers coming in the second half.
Oglesby led the Panthers with 94 yards rushing and both Portal touchdowns just a week after suffering an ankle injury. The Panthers mustered just 145 total yards and none through the air.
“Effort-wise, I’m always proud of my guys,” said Portal coach Cherard Freeman. “I thought we had a good game plan tonight, but [Claxton] just came out here with a better one and played well. That’s on me.”
Freeman may have been taking the blame, but Portal was obviously the smaller team and Claxton (1-2) found a good offensive rhythm that pounded the ball on the ground and wore down the Panthers. Claxton’s Shavez Mincey ran for 111 yards and a touchdown and caught a touchdown pass to boot.
Late in the game, cramps and injuries bit the Panthers, but lack of effort never seemed to.