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Portal chases playoff spot

    PORTAL — For the last five games, Portal has looked like a state playoff team.
    The Panthers found a way to win each of those contests, but it’s going to take one more win tonight to count themselves among the 32 teams that will make the state playoff field this season.
    Touting a 6-3 overall record and a 5-1 mark in sub-region play, the Panthers’ resume is impressive. But a three-way tie at the top of the standings and some tough luck coming Portal’s way via the tiebreaker has it traveling to Calvary Day (8-1, 4-1) for the Region 3-A play-in round tonight.
    “That was a little unfortunate,” said Portal coach David NeSmith. “Obviously, it would have been nice to get a better seed and be able to play this game at home. That’s not what we’re thinking about though. The important thing is that we’ve put ourselves in a position where we control our own fate and we just have to keep winning.”
    That’s exactly what the Panthers have been doing for the past two months.
    After a 1-3 start, Portal notched its first region win with a takedown of Montgomery County. Then, the Panthers served notice that they were a dangerous team as they upset No. 3 Emanuel County Institute.
    The last three games have also gone the way of the Panthers, even though each one involved Portal hanging on to a slim lead in the final minute of play.
    “We’ve definitely had some close calls,” said NeSmith. “I think that speaks pretty well for our players. They are a very determined group. They never stop fighting.”
    NeSmith also added that the close games — some against inferior competition — might also allow his team to sneak up on some people.
    “We haven’t lit up the scoreboard much. I think that has kept us flying under the radar. Maybe we’ll be able to surprise a few more teams.”
    Starting this week, the stakes are higher, but Portal is treating it just about the same as any other. NeSmith addressed the fact that any loss from here on out will end the season, but he noted that his team is calm, collected and ready to continue their hot streak.
    Despite falling to the No. 3 seed and having to play on the road, the Panthers could have lucked into a good draw. If the Panthers had won their sub-region, they would have had a rematch against Claxton — which it lost to, 18-9 in Week 3.
    Instead, Portal takes on the Cavaliers, and the matchups could work out well for Portal.
    “Calvary runs a 5-3 look on defense,” said NeSmith. “With our offense, we know people are going to play up for the run, but we feel like we can still have some success. On offense, they run a lot of spread. We’ve seen that before, and the main thing is just executing our assignments.”
    While it has the better record, Calvary Day is in the same boat as Portal. The Cavaliers have just one loss, but narrowly escaped two games early in the season, needed overtime to beat Claxton, and just barely survived a fourth quarter comeback against Bryan County two weeks ago.
    “We can look at records, but that’s not going to matter,” said NeSmith. “Once that game starts, it’s simple. We want to keep on playing. To do that, we need to go out and get a win.”

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