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Panthers ride to Millen

Portal (0-4) at
Jenkins County (2-2)

7:30 p.m., Today

    PORTAL — The Portal Panthers head out in search of their first win of the season once again tonight with a trip to Millen to take on Jenkins County.
    Portal (0-4) wasn’t able to benefit from a bye week and an extra week of preparations last Friday as the Panthers dropped a 48-0 decision to Emanuel County Institute. The shut out marked the third consecutive game in which the Panthers have failed to score a point.
    “There’s no doubt that we’re in a tough spot right now,” said Portal coach David NeSmith. “We haven’t had a whole lot to celebrate so far. With such a young team, we can’t let that get to us. If we can just get into the end zone or have a big play or a long drive, that might be the spark we need to build some confidence.”
    Normally, seeing the Eagles (2-2) on the schedule would offer a sigh of relief for a team that is struggling.
    Jenkins County hasn’t won more than two games since the 2009 campaign and started this season with a pair of losses, but has since rebounded over new head coach Ashley Harden to win its last two games by a combined score of 105-26.
    The games get more important for both squads starting tonight as the contest marks the first sub-region matchup for each team.
    With fellow sub-region members Savannah Christian and Calvary Day in the Class A top-10 poll and Claxton threatening to break into the rankings, Portal, Jenkins and the rest of the sub-region have their work cut out for them and need as many good showings as possible.
    “We’re kind of on the wrong side of the trend,” said NeSmith. “Jenkins County and so many other schools in the region have really gotten better this season and we’re kind of rebuilding. But that can’t be an excuse. We’ve got to keep improving and go out there and compete.”
    For the Panthers, competing starts with getting its sputtering offense on track. Injuries and a lack of depth have prevented the Panthers from being effective in their base wishbone offense, but the mental aspect of the game may offer the Panthers hope tonight.
    The Eagles operate mainly out of a 3-5 front on defense. Jenkins will pressure with linebacker blitzes from all over, but the less-crowded line of scrimmage and some good reads can get the Panthers into the right play call.
    “We’ve done a pretty good job in practice of reading the defense and getting the right play called,” said NeSmith. “But being able to do it in a game is always more challenging.”
    Defensively, Portal should be well prepared for what Jenkins will throw at it. In past seasons, the Eagles have shown a little bit of everything as far as tactics and formations. Their new Wing-T attack is more predictable, but – as the last couple of weeks have shown – more potent than previous Eagle squads.
    “It’s all about getting that confidence,” said NeSmith. “If we can score some points, that should help our defense settle down and feel less pressure. I know it sounds like a broken record, but we know that we’re a young team that still has a lot to learn. All we can do is stay determined and keep battling until we can turn things around.”

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