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Panthers face Calvary Day on the road

Portal (0-8, 0-4) at
#10 Calvary (7-1, 3-1)

7:30 p.m., Today

    PORTAL — The Portal Panthers’ rocky road has one more huge boulder laying in the way tonight as Portal heads to Savannah to take on No. 10 Calvary Day.
    The Panthers (0-8, 0-4 Region 3-A) have endured more than their fair share of struggles this season. A team that was just a win away from a spot in the state playoffs last season lost over half of its roster to graduation and has seen an initial 2012 roster of 30 players whittled down below 20 due to injuries.
    On the other side of the field will be a team that is bigger, healthier, and looking forward to a deep run in the Class A state playoffs.
    Calvary Day (7-1, 3-1) lost its chance to play for the region championship when it fell to Savannah Christian, but is still a near shoe-in to be selected in the newly created power poll to fill out the 16-team bracket for the private school state playoffs.
    The Cavaliers responded to their sole loss in style when they crushed fellow playoff hopeful Claxton by a 49-12 count last week and have garnered the utmost respect from the Panthers.
    “Even though (Calvary Day) lost to Savannah Christian, I still think that they will be the best team that we play this year,” said Portal coach David NeSmith. “They are certainly one of the biggest and most balanced teams around.”
    Portal lost a tough decision to Savannah Country Day last week, but still had a few positives to take away from the loss.
    The Panthers had scored just 18 points in their first seven games, but rattled off 22 last week. A similar outburst against a solid Cavaliers defense might not happen, but Portal is taking every positive that it can out of its rough season.
    “We were very pleased to get the offense going a little better last week,” said NeSmith. “I was also very happy with the fact that we didn’t turn the ball over. The little things like that are what we have to take away during a year like this, but those things are also what will help us to get better.”
    Calvary Day boasts as much depth and speed as any team that Portal has played this season, but the Cavaliers’ size will pose the biggest threat.
    Calvary has a stacked defensive line that easily outweighs the Panthers’ offensive front and even skill players like receivers Jordan Walker and Khaliq Hughes will tower over the Panthers assigned to slow them down.
    Jake Clemens heads up the Calvary spread attack and is just as likely to attack Portal with his arm as his feet.
    “There just isn’t much we can do to simulate a size advantage like that,” said NeSmith. “It will absolutely cause some problems, but we can’t get hung up on that. We need to continue to go out there and execute our game plan.”
    If Portal can’t pull off what would be a huge upset, it will have just one more chance to salvage a win this season.
    Portal won’t participate in the Region 3-A play-in games next week, but will take on Glascock County to close out the season.

    Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.