PORTAL — With four of the six teams in Portal's sub-region hailing from the Savannah area, the Panthers are no stranger to the hour-plus road trip for many away games.
Those games are often spread out, but the region schedule is chosen by pure chance as matchups are drawn out of a hat months before the season began. Still, Portal knew it would have to save up on gas money during October as the luck of the draw saw them face back-to-back-to-back road games, first travelling to Darien to face McIntosh County Academy before consecutive trips to Savannah to face Calvary Day and Savannah Christian.
The first two legs of the road swing haven't gone the way of the Panthers (1-6, 0-3 Regoin 3A-A), but they're hoping that the third time is the charm.
"It is what it is when it comes to road games," Portal coach Matt Smith said. "We knew we'd have to play those games at some point. They just happened to come one after the other."
Unfortunately, that's also how the losses have come for Portal.
The private schools in the region routinely have 40 and 50-man squads while the Panthers are lucky to have 30 healthy players by the end of most seasons. But that isn't an excuse that Smith or any of his players have used.
The Panthers proved that they could win as they ran away from Wheeler County in a Sept. 22 matchup. Portal has shown promise in other games, but has run into early trouble in each of its past three contests.
"We feel like we can be competitive against just about anyone," Smith said. "But we have to do a better job earlier in games. It's so much tougher to execute well when you fall behind quickly. We need to start well and give ourselves a chance to settle into the game."
That strategy could be a winning one against Savannah Christian (3-3, 2-1). The Raiders are a solid team, to be sure, but they've taken their share of lumps this season. Their current .500 mark — if it holds — would be the worst showing for a Savannah Christian team since 2013.
And that just so happens to be the last time Portal notched a win over the Raiders.
Stats and records aside, the style of how Savannah Christian plays is also something that could play into the hands of Portal.
With the Panthers fielding plenty of players who start on both sides of the ball, stamina is always an issue. That has been evident against teams that opt for up-tempo offenses and teams who like to spread the field and make defenses cover a lot of ground.
The Raiders employ a run-heavy attack that relies on tight sets and that usually takes its time in getting each play off.
Savannah Christian has the athleticism to run around the end, but routinely hand the ball off to a fullback running straight ahead 25-30 times per game.
That could keep some mileage off of Portal legs, but doens't guarantee that anything will be easy.
"We need to do our job on offense and put ourselves in a position to win," Smith said. "On defense, we have a good idea of what's coming, but that doesn't make it easy to stop. Everyone is going to have to strap up for a tough game."