PORTAL — It may have only been one win, but it was just what Portal needed.
The Panthers got their first win of the season last week in a 29-26 comeback thriller against Jenkins County. The victory also marked the first win as a head coach for Cherard Freeman, and is hopefully the start of a turnaround for a program that has been struggling for four years.
“It was a great win for the program,” said Freeman. “Everyone contributed to make it happen. Our coaching staff had a great game plan, we had one of our best weeks of practice leading up to the game, and then everyone executed well on the field.”
Most impressive was the offense.
Freeman has installed the triple-option offense this season, and while the Panthers struggled early on – having a high-score of just 16 in their first six games – everything finally came together when they needed it most.
Trailing by four points and with time running out, Portal quarterback Hunter Oglesby directed a 19-play, 88 yard touchdown drive to earn the win.
Overall, the Panthers ran the ball 58 times and racked up 350 rushing yards.
“That was definitely our best offensive effort,” said Freeman. “Everything really came together. That last drive was exactly what we’ve been working for.”
For Portal players and fans alike, the final minutes of the game were a welcome change from the norm. The Panthers have been involved in many close games, but time after time, the breaks always seemed to go the other way.
“You could look at the sideline and see how much getting that win meant to our guys,” said Freeman. “They’ve worked hard. They’ve put in a lot of effort to get to that point.”
Now, the focus shifts to maintaining their newfound winning ways.
Although Portal’s record sits at 0-6, 1-3 in sub-region play, wins in its final two games will give the Panthers a shot at the final region play-in slot and a chance to go to the state playoffs for the first time since 2006.
“I’ve been hammering that into our guys all week,” said Freeman. “We still have a shot, and we need to win out.”
Whether or not Portal can make a run this year, things seem to be heading in the right direction for the future.
Even with the early-season struggles, Freeman feels like each week’s practice has been more devoted and that the Panthers have been improving throughout the year. After last Friday’s win, Freeman was initially concerned about this week’s preparation – Portal is on fall break, meaning no classes and 8 a.m. practices – but has been pleased with his players’ perfect attendance and desire to go get another win this week.
With Oglesby and the entire offensive line — and many defensive starters — set to return next season, there are plenty of reasons to believe that Portal is on its way back.
“We know that we have small numbers, but all of our guys are here to win,” said Freeman. “I’m very upfront with them. I tell people that not everyone is cut out to be a football player. We work hard in the weight room and hard every day at practice. We might not have the most players out there, but we’re going to keep getting better, and everyone out there in a Portal Panther uniform is a player that is committed to making this a winning program.”
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.