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Injured and tired Panthers set for Saturday morning game

Portal finally finishes their post-Hurricane Matthew gauntlet this morning when they’ll face Savannah Christian at 11:00 a.m.
    This marks the third time the Panthers have played a full game in now 11 days ­— which is a lot of violence to withstand when you’re the smallest football playing school in the state of Georgia.
    Not only is the violence overwhelming, but the opponents have been too. First was 6-1 McIntosh Academy on Oct. 19, rated No. 6 in the GHSA public power ratings. Then Monday was 7-0 Calvary Day, No. 10 in the private rankings and now No. 12 Savannah Christian.
    “Our kids have held up well,” said head coach Matt Smith. “The injuries have mounted up, but we still practice hard everyday.”
    Even going back four weeks to Savannah Country Day, Portal has now played the top four teams in their side of the region in a row. It’s an absolutely brutal task to ask of such a small group of kids.
    Even smaller now since injuries have started to mount up for the Panthers. Starting quarterback Jake Brown is now out for the rest of the year with an ankle injury, forcing sophomore quarterback Connor Washington into the line of fire.
    “He’s done well, he’s gotten a lot more comfortable as he’s played more,” Smith said.
    Washington led the team in total offense last week with 65 combined yards rushing and passing. While those aren’t world beater numbers by any means, Washington is now getting the crucial reps he’ll need to be ready to potentially take over as the full time starter for next season.
            Last week Washington threw a touchdown pass to Fred Holloway for Portal’s lone offensive score of the game in what was his third start in a row. Smith hopes to see Washington progress more through these last two games.
    The injuries have impacted Portal more along defense, where the Panthers have actually been decent this season in spite of their 0-7 record. The front seven has been missing key pieces, like freshman linebacker Hunter Newsome, and it’s taken a big toll over the past few weeks.
    “We’re undersized to begin with, and to play the three best teams on our side of the region is a tough ask,” Smith said. “These are all teams capable of making it to at least the quarterfinals.”
    That won’t bode well for facing Savannah Christian, who’s a strong 5-2 and averaging 27.2 points per game. Their only losses have come to the aforementioned MCA and undefeated Jefferson County, the No. 6 team in class 2A according to the AJC’s Maxwell ratings.
    SC averages around 5.7 yards a carry, which is good for a team that runs the ball 90 percent of the time. The few times SC passes they haven’t been successful, as they’re without a touchdown pass all season.
    Quarterback Jordan Grant and fullback AJ Davis carry the brunt of the load in SC’s option attack, as the two account for 83.5 percent of the team’s total yardage and 10 of their 13 touchdowns.
    “Our defense has played well for the most part,” Smith said. “The problem is when we struggle to move the ball and our defense stays out there, they wear down and give up points.”
    In all honesty, Portal’s looking forward to getting a break next week against Claxton — also winless and a team the Panthers can finally be competitive with.
    Either way, the Panthers will be looking tomorrow to get out alive and healthy enough for their de-facto playoff game next week to find their first win of the season.