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Panthers, Bulldogs renew annual rivalry in Portal

    Moral victories can be seen in different ways, but Portal head coach Matt Smith says his team can no longer afford to skate by on them.
    Now in his third season as head coach, it’s all he’s been able to do with his often outmatched team — last Friday being no different than the rest of the games he’s coached. Portal held a 15-14 lead over Treutlen County, but a stinger to the throwing hand of QB Fischer Oglesby would see the backup come in the fumble the snap his first play.
    This led to Treutlen taking a 22-15 lead and never surrendering it. Oglesby would throw two more interceptions on long heaves downfield trying to pull his team back into the foray, but even as Portal looked admittedly better than in last season’s opener it nevertheless left the Panthers very disappointed.
    “It took them a couple days to recover, it really hurt them,” Smith said. “There was a little bit of a hangover but I think we’ve recovered by now.”
    Sure, Portal could hang their hat on the fact they averaged 5.5 yards a play or that running back Craig Ware rushed for 182 yards and two touchdowns at 8.7 yards a pop. But Smith says he team can’t afford to look for the moral wins because if they continue to be complacent in this rut, they’ll never come out of it.
    “We can’t keep being happy with moral victories,” Smith said. “We’re deep enough in now to where we can’t be satisfied with anything less than a win. I know the kids feel that.”
    Even with that admirable mindset, it’s easier said than done with Portal’s opponent tonight. Neighboring county rival Emanuel County Institute comes to town for the Panthers home opener, who even in what appears to be a down year for the Bulldogs still have loads of talent not seen by many class A public schools.
    Running backs Bobby McNear and Tysean Carswell are two of the better runners you’ll find in class A and WR Dazuhn Steele is an explosive outside threat. Defensive end Curtis Fann Jr. and middle linebacker Peyton Mercer have college football in their futures, so where has the drop off been felt for ECI?
    Quarterback would be a start.
    Without the luxuries of Rhett Gay throwing for over ten yards a pass and only two interceptions to 34 touchdowns ECI has been forced to revert back to their old style of ground-and-pound football back in the days when they had talented backs like Washaun Ealy.
    Safe to say ECI has had a little trouble adjusting back to their roots. In week zero the Bulldogs trailed Metter 9-7 going into the fourth quarter before pulling off a 21-15 win and last week were thoroughly beaten by Swainsboro 26-7. But even having said all of that, Smith knows his team has a major challenge ahead of them. 
    “Their defense will be just as good as last year and I think Metter and Swainsboro are much better than they were last season,” Smith said. “They lost some skill guys for sure, (Rhett) Gay opened them up so they could do so much. Now they’re going back to what they did around five years ago.”
    Portal’s running game is going to be tested by ECI’s front seven. If the Panthers can’t get a run game established early like they did against Truetlen, it’ll come down to forcing Oglesby to throw downfield or the coaching staff trying to draw up big plays out of nothing. The latter was an issue for Portal last season and Smith has already made it clear he isn’t ready for Oglesby trying to bite off more than he can chew as a sophomore.
    In the end, Smith says he believes taking a team like ECI to the fourth quarter would be a success for his team. It would merely be a warmup for the meat of the schedule in October when they have three straight road games against McIntosh County Academy, Calvary Day and Savannah Christian.
    “By the time it’s all said and done with our schedule we could be much improved from last season and no one would know,” Smith said. “But we know we are better and that’s what matters.”