Entering the 2011 season, Portal knew the challenges it faced. The Panthers were short on bodies, but long on talent.
A few early losses were a definite setback, but the Panthers’ confidence never wavered. Led by determined seniors like Joe Lockley, Portal fought back into the Region 3-A race, highlighting its cause with an 17-7 upset victory over Emanuel County Institute last Friday.
"It was a big win for us… A big win for the whole school," said Lockley, who drilled a 45 yard field goal, nailed two extra points, and contributed on both the offensive and defensive lines in the win. "(ECI) got some wins against us the last few years. It was great to finally get them back."
Not only did Lockley and the Panthers pay back their rivals from Twin City, but they did so in impressive fashion.
A turnover led to Portal’s first score of the night, Lockley extended the lead with his field goal, and a fourth quarter touchdown made it 17-0 before the Panthers ran out the clock for the win.
"We watched a lot of film," said Lockley. "By the end, we felt pretty confident about what ECI was going to do and thought that we could win if we just played like we knew we could."
Aside from the win that keeps Portal (3-3, 2-1 Region 3-A) in contention for the top spot in its sub-region, Lockley had another cause that he was playing for.
Prior to the season, Lockley lost a close friend in Rodney Mitchell. Though Mitchell isn’t around to see the games in person, Lockley is determined to play his best for someone who he still knows is watching over him.
"He was one of my best friends," said Lockley of Mitchell. "He always kept my head on football and encouraged me. I dedicated this season to him and I keep trying my best to make him proud."
Now, with a big upset behind them and a favorable schedule ahead, Lockley and the Panthers want to take the next step.
"We haven't really had a chance to play for the state playoffs," said Lockley. "When coach (David) NeSmith came in this spring, he talked to the seniors. That was our goal and something that we're still set on doing. We just have to keep playing well and make it happen."
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.