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Panthers face Savannah Christian

    PORTAL — Of all the things that the Portal Panthers have had to endure this season, the biggest test might still be in front of them.
    After losing half of its roster to graduation last season, the Panthers (0-6, 0-2 Region 3-A) entered the 2012 campaign with a 25-man roster composed mainly of freshmen and sophomores.
    Injuries have cut the roster down below 20 as Portal has been unable to find a win, and now the Panthers must head to the coast to take on defending Class A state champion Savannah Christian (4-2, 2-0).
    In what appears to be one of the more lopsided matchups throughout the state this week, the Panthers are still determined to take as many positives as possible from their tough situation.
    “It’s not often that you have the opportunity to take on a team that is coming off of a state championship,” said Portal coach David NeSmith. “I know that we’ve had our struggles, but facing good competition is the best way to test yourself and get better. That’s what we’ll try to do.”
    The Panthers enter the game with injuries once again throwing the lineup into flux.
    Defensive back Malik Williams will be back in action, but center Tanner Brown may be lost for the season after injuring his knee in last week’s loss to Claxton.
    “I don’t think we’ve sent out the same starting five on our offensive line twice all year,” said NeSmith. “We’re down to five guys on the line. With those numbers, there’s just not much you can do to mix and match or try anything different.”
    The offensive line’s lack of health has been a big factor in Portal’s inability to get its wishbone and flexbone running sets going.
    For the Raiders, the exact opposite holds true.
    Savannah Christian dropped out of the top-10 after consecutive losses to begin the season, but has stormed back to win its last four. The Raiders have taken control of the sub-region in the last two weeks, defeating Claxton on Oct. 5 and edging out then fourth-ranked Calvary Day in a 21-20 classic last week.
    Fueling the turnaround has been Savannah Christian’s trademark triple option offense. A freshman quarterback and plenty of replaced starters contributed to the early struggles, but have now found their footing and look like a team that will once again be a factor in the postseason.
    “The scariest part about Savannah Christian is that they don’t do much of anything fancy,” said NeSmith. “They just line up and get after it. That is one very tough, very talented team.”
    Plenty of games have gotten away from Portal already this season and a date with the Raiders threatens to give the Panthers another long night. But for all of their struggles, the Panthers are still upbeat heading into tonight.
    “We’re not trying to say that we’re going to shock the world,” said NeSmith. “We know where we are right now, but we also know where we want to be. There are plenty of places where we need to improve and we expect to keep playing hard and to keep working on ourselves starting tonight.”

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