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Portal a heavy underdog against Claxton

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7:20 p.m.
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Claxton (3-2, 0-1) at
Portal (0-5, 0-1)

7:30 p.m., Today
Portal Athletic Complex

    PORTAL — Two teams meet up in Portal tonight with very different objectives.
    The Claxton Tigers will be trying to shake off their second heartbreaking loss of the season and trying to get back in the hunt for the Class A state playoffs.
    As for the Portal Panthers, they’re just trying to find some more positives in a season that has been rocky to say the least.
    The Panthers (0-5, 0-1 Region 3-A) have battled a small roster and mounting injuries throughout the season and tonight will be no different. Portal anticipates dressing just 17 players as it takes on Claxton.
    “It’s going to be tough going. We know that,” said Portal coach David NeSmith. “Facing a team like Claxton makes things even harder. They’re full of speed and one of the most physical team’s we’ll play this season.”
    Despite everything going against them, the Panthers managed to play a more competitive game last week. Portal played streaking Jenkins County tough and finally found some offense for the first time since the season opener before falling 28-6.
    Even then, Portal’s youth and inexperience showed in the form of seven turnovers.
    “On one hand, you try to build off of that,” said NeSmith. “We drove the ball a lot better on offense and had some opportunities to get into the game. But you just can’t turn the ball over like that. We need to develop the maturity to realize those things and put ourselves in better positions moving forward.”
    Keeping pace with Jenkins County was one thing, but the Tigers (3-2, 0-1) pose even more problems.
    Claxton features size on both the offensive and defensive lines that will be hard for Portal to overcome.
    When the Tigers have the ball, Zachaeus Grant and Tre Hines form a 1-2 punch blazing around the corners and breaking off big gains down the sidelines. Claxton has also found a replacement for departed four-year starting quarterback Michael Peel in Tanner Lee. The Tigers don’t ask Lee to carry them with his arm, but with a weapon like receiver Cornelius Taylor to throw to, just a few completions per game provides all of the offensive balance needed.
    “Dealing with that speed will be a challenge,” said NeSmith. “With our small numbers, we definitely don’t want to have guys chasing runners to the sidelines and downfield every play. We’ll do our best to try and limit (Claxton) getting to the edge and try to shorten the game when we have the ball.”
    With the joy and cheers of Portal’s five-game winning streak blazing a trail to the region play-in games now long forgotten, this season’s Panthers are just trying to find a foothold to begin rebuilding the program.
    With the dangerous Tigers awaiting tonight and state-ranked Savannah Christian and Calvary Day still lying ahead on the schedule, the Panthers may have to survive quite a bit of darkness before the dawn comes.
    “With the situation we’re in, it’s tough not to feel for the kids a little bit,” said NeSmith. “But I give them a lot of credit. They’re out there working hard every day and trying to get a little closer to where we want to be. We might only have 17 in uniform, but those 17 guys are going to line up and play just as hard as anyone.”

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