PORTAL — It is an old cliché: keep your friends close and your enemies closer. For Portal, they don’t come much closer than Emanuel County Institute, home of the Panthers’ mortal enemy, the Bulldogs.
Games between fierce rivals located so close to one another open up a floodgate of clichés.
Throw out the records.
It’s a game of emotion.
Crazy things happen.
The rankings mean nothing.
“The best team doesn’t always win and the worst team doesn’t always lose.”
That last bit is courtesy of Portal head coach Cherard Freeman, who has played in some pretty intense rivalry games in his time, including a couple of doozies while at Georgia Southern. Freeman thinks Portal and ECI is intense because it is intimate.
“When you play in a rivalry game like this, you play against people you see the rest of the year,” he said. “You know that how you play is going to be with you all year.”
The thing about clichés is they often turn out to be true. In rivalry games, players are more focused and intense but they are also likely to do something out of the ordinary. Maybe that means missing a tackle because a defender pursues too hard. It can also mean blocking a bigger, stronger player because of a surge of adrenaline.
The emotion of a rivalry sometimes takes those meticulous practices and well-drawn plays and throws them out the field house window.
“It’s a little different game with the preparation and the game itself,” said Freeman. “Sometimes you throw the Xs and Os out the window a little bit. You play with emotion but hopefully you play under control.”
Pushing the clichés aside for a moment, Portal does have its work cut out it.
The Panthers are winless at 0-5 and are 0-2 in region play. ECI comes in 4-2 and 3-1 in region play after a 31-24 overtime loss to Johnson County. Game time is 7:30 p.m. at Portal.
The Panthers have been hit by injuries, but Freeman says other leaders have emerged and the team is laying a solid foundation for the spread option offense. Quarterback Hunter Oglesby will again line up under center for the Panthers Friday night, and Freeman speaks well of his quarterback.
“I’ve fed him a lot and little more each week but not too much to overload his circuits,” said Freeman. He said film study will help Oglesby develop and learn to call audibles at the line of scrimmage, opening up the offense even more.
Meanwhile, the Panthers believe the extra energy from a big rivalry game will help easy fatigue late in game, particularly for players who take snaps on both sides of the ball.
“In a rivalry game your energy level goes a little higher than usual,” Freeman said. “I truly think that will help our guys out.”
Portal said the entire school has a new attitude thanks to a new school. The new attitude makes home field advantage in this game especially nice. Freeman said the school is excited not just for the football game but for the opportunity to show off its new look.
“We’ve got a new attitude through the whole school,” he said. “A lot of people haven’t even been out here and seen how different it is. I really feel good about our situation.”
So throw the stats out.
It’s Portal versus ECI. Anything might happen.