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Portal edges Wheeler
Wheeler County defender James Green, far left, is on the outside looking in as Portal running back Trai Gadson is pushed into the end zone by teammates on a 15-yard touchdown to give the Panthers the lead with 34 seconds left in the game Friday. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

   PORTAL — Nearly half of Portal’s roster was on the field to be recognized at Senior Night Friday. If the Panthers keep playing like they have been, those 15 seniors might still have plenty of games to look forward to.
    Tied with Wheeler County at 7-7, The Panthers drove 80 yards and Trai Gadson finished his 113-yard rushing performance, scoring from 15 yards out with just 34 seconds to play as Portal edged out a 14-7 victory.
    “I’m really proud of our guys tonight,” said Portal coach David NeSmith. “This team has a whole lot of fight in it. We came out a little flat, but we just kept going and got it done.”
    With the win, Portal remains tied with Johnson County and Emanuel County Institute for the top spot in Region 3W-A. With one week to play, the Panthers are assured of a spot in the region play-in round, but aren’t sure of exactly how things will play out.
    “We haven’t talked about playoffs with the guys,” said NeSmith. “We’re just concerned with each game as it comes.”
    The dramatic final drive came on the heels of an equally thrilling stand for the Panthers.
    Faced with fourth-and-3 from the PHS 27, Bulldog quarterback Austin Oliver hit Chip Moore on a rollout pass down to the 10. The air briefly went out of the stadium, but the Panthers held for three plays, and Moore’s 27-yard field goal attempt fell short, keeping the game tied and setting up the game’s decisive drive.
    The Panther defense also notched some points on the night.
    Two first-half Portal drives reached the Wheeler County red zone, but they stalled and a pair of missed field goals kept the Panthers off the scoreboard.
    Trailing 7-0 and having just turned the ball over on downs at the Bulldog 10, Isaiah Rich barreled through the offensive line, deflected a pitch and fell on it in the end zone for a touchdown.
    “Something got into Isaiah today,” said NeSmith. “He set some new maxes in the weight room this morning. He was definitely pumped up and gave us a big play when we needed it.”
    Wheeler County utilized its triple-option offense to find running room outside for the game’s first score. Terry Williams (11 carries, 80 yards, TD) started the drive with an 18-yard scamper, and Oliver got another 20 yards in one fell swoop a few plays later.
    Just as the Panthers dug in and forced a third down, Williams took a counter trap around the right side and went untouched for a 29-yard touchdown run. Chip Moore added the PAT to make it 7-0.
    “That’s a good team and a good offense,” said NeSmith. “They showed that they could be dangerous, but we were able to slow them down later in the game.”
    On the decisive drive, Corey Walker (17 carries, 151 yards) put a charge into the Panthers with a 36-yard run to the Wheeler County 45. On a crucial 3rd down, Gadson gained 16 yards down to the
    With the Bulldogs on the ropes and time winding down, the Panthers continued to chip away until Gadson burst through the middle for his touchdown run.
    Down to its last chance, a wayward kickoff allowed Wheeler County to start on its own 35, and a Portal penalty advanced the ball past midfield. A desperation pass from Oliver found Franshon Travis at the Portal 34 with two seconds to play. But Oliver’s final heave into the end zone was brought down by Walker to secure the win.

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