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Portal hopes to blue out ECI

Emanuel Co. Inst. (2-0) at Portal (2-0)
7:30 p.m., 102.9 FM (Friday)
Portal Athletic Complex

Game Plan

    KEEP THE FOOT ON THE GAS: Over the last few seasons, the Portal Panthers have gone as far as their defense can carry them. The defense is once again the strongest part of Portal’s game, but the offense took a big step forward last week. If Portal can find the end zone more than once, taking down ECI becomes a much easier task.
    KEEP THE CLOCK RUNNING: Portal and ECI compete in the same classification and same region, but the Bulldogs routinely dress out twice as many players as the Panthers. Portal is razor-thin at many positions, so it comes as a benefit that both teams are run-heavy and can shorten the game.
    CHANGING IT UP: Portal quarterback Evan Street has dropped back to throw over a dozen times this season, but Tyler Budgett is the only Panther with significant passing stats as he threw for 43 yards last week. Both are capable passers and runners, giving Portal options if ECI keys its defense on stopping Malik Williams.

    PORTAL — In football, no team can afford to be content.
    Through two weeks, the Portal Panthers still see plenty of places where they need to improve.
    Of course, the Panthers’ 2-0 record is as good as it can get at the moment.
    Portal will but that unblemished record on the line tonight as it welcomes in old rival Emanuel County Institute for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff. The game is a “Blue Out,” as Panthers fans are encouraged to dress head to toe in blue.
    In addition to bragging rights, both teams will also be trying to extend their undefeated records. Portal wrestled away a victory from Josey in its opener and exploded for 34 points against Treutlen last week. The Bulldogs have been just as impressive, cruising past both Swainsboro and Metter in their first two games.
    “We definitely like the winning,” Portal coach Jon Willoughby said. “That’s a great way to keep everyone motivated and working hard. The effort is there, but we still have a lot of things that we could do better. This week, I know we’re going to get a big test.”
    The secret to success for both squads is easy to understand. The Panthers and Bulldogs are straightforward and relatively simple in their approach.
    Both teams like to run the ball and both take a lot of pride in digging their heels in and getting opposing offenses off the field quickly.
    “(ECI) isn’t real dynamic or tough to figure out, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t a good team,” Willoughby said. “They play football and they do a real good job of trying to make you not enjoy playing football against them.”
    It takes a total team effort to win any game, but tonight’s contest may very well be decided by a couple of star running backs and some imposing defensive players.
    ECI’s Michael Sutton leads all rushers in the area with 378 rushing yards and seven trips into the end zone.
    Trying to match Sutton stride for Stride will be Portal’s Malik Williams. The talented sophomore scored two touchdowns in the Panthers’ opener. Last week, he managed to top that, amassing over 300 yards of total offense and scoring three more touchdowns.
    Portal linebacker Trent Thomas runs the Panther defense and will need to make the right on-field checks and reads to slow down Sutton. When the Panthers have the ball, ECI defensive end Dez Williams (12 tackles, one forced fumble) will try to control the line of scrimmage and make it a tough night for Williams.
    While the two teams are on opposite sides of the sub-divided Region 3-A, this game holds playoff ramifications for both schools.
    All games factor into the statewide power poll which will determine which 16 teams make the Class A public school playoffs at the end of the season.
    Through the first two weeks, ECI sits at third in the poll while the Panthers are seventh.

    Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9408.