First Downs 19 7
Rushes-Yards 54-418 30-227
Passing Yards 43 42
Total Yards 461 269
Comp-Att-Int 2-8-0 3-9-1
Turnovers 2 1
Penalties-Yards 6-60 4-25
Rushing: PHS: Hardaway, 1 carry, 70 yards, 1 TD. ECI: Sutton, 26 carries, 198 yards, 2 TDs.
Passing: PHS: Williams, 1-1, 36 yards ECI: Boatright, 2-5, 43 yards, 1 TD.
Receiving: PHS: Sherrod, 2 rec. 40 yards. ECI: Brantley, rec., 21 yards, TD.
ECI 14 7 6 15 — 42
PHS 0 14 0 7 — 21
4:41 — Sutton (ECI) 1 run (Durden kick)
0:08 — Brown (ECI) 9 run (Durden kick)
9:57 — Huff (PHS) 42 run (Buchner kick)
5:59 — (ECI) Boatright 11 run (Durden kick)
4:50 — (PHS) Hardaway 70 run (Buchner kick)
0:10 — Brown (ECI) 1 run (Durden kick failed)
8:24 — Sutton (ECI) 9 run (Sutton run)
4:41 — Jones (PHS) 9 run (Buchner kick)
1:39 — Brantley (ECI) 21 pass from Boatright (Durden kick)
PORTAL – With Portal driving for the potential tying score late in the third quarter, an untimely interception thwarted the Panthers’ upset bid of the defending state champion Emanuel County Institute Bulldogs Friday night as Portal ultimately fell 42-21.
Trailing 21-14 with less than five minutes remaining in the third quarter, Portal (0-3-1) faced a third and nine on its own 39. Panthers’ Head Coach David NeSmith went to his bag of tricks and pulled out a halfback pass, which worked to perfection as Malik Williams was able to find a wide open Harrison Sherrod for a 36-yard gain to the Bulldog 23.
Unfortunately, quarterback Evan Street’s next pass was underthrown and intercepted by ECI’s James Brown, who returned it to near midfield. A quick eight-play drive by ECI (3-2) ending with a touchdown effectively ended any hopes of a come-from-behind victory for the Panthers.
“We’d worked on that (halfback pass) all week and we were looking for the right time to use it,” NeSmith said. “It got us into great shape and we were in position to go tie it up.
“That interception was a huge momentum killer, but we’ve got to learn to overcome (the turnovers) and not let it bring us down,” he said.
Portal’s normally stout defense gave up a season high 461 yards on the night with most of that coming on the ground. Michael Sutton and Brown combined for 350 yards on 45 carries as the ECI offensive line was able to create running room all night.
“They just lined it up and ran it right at us,” NeSmith said. “I love that. It’s old-fashioned, hard-nosed football and it’s what I want us to be able to do.”
After both teams exchanged punts to start the game, ECI found its offensive rhythm, going 88 yards on six plays to take an early 7-0 lead. Following another Panther punt, the Bulldogs went 76 yards on seven plays, including a fake punt, to go up 14-0.
The Panthers answered on their next possession when Darius Huff took a handoff up the middle, broke a tackle and raced 42 yards for the score to cut the lead to 14-7.
The Bulldogs responded with an 85-yard drive that culminated in an 11-yard touchdown run by quarterback Jakobie Boatright to give ECI a two touchdown lead.
Two plays later, Donyah Hardaway went straight up the middle untouched and outraced the Bulldog secondary to the end zone for a 70-yard touchdown to again cut the lead to seven.
After ECI extended the lead back to 35-14, Portal’s Casey Jones took an option pitch in from nine yards out to trim the lead to 14, but ECI answered with a late touchdown pass to provide the final margin of victory for the Bulldogs.
Offensively, Portal was led by Hardaway’s 70 rushing yards. Huff added 65 yards on nine carries.
“I told our guys we’ve played four really good football teams so far,” NeSmith said. “We played two good AAA schools, Johnson County is in the top 10 in Class A and ECI is the defending state champs. That’s going to help us in the long run.”
NeSmith said that despite their 0-3-1 record, the Panthers still control their destiny as they can win the subregion and make the playoffs.
“I saw some good things out there tonight. We kept fighting and never gave up. We had some success with the option and were able to get on the corner a few times,” he said. “I don’t think anyone quit and they kept playing hard the whole game, and that’s all I can ask of them.”