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Portal hosts Claxton

    The Portal Panthers have a chance to turn the tides on the season as they face Claxton at home tonight in the Panthers’ first region game of the season.
    Portal (0-4) suffered a tough loss last week at the hands of Johnson County 19-6. The Panthers’ defense held strong, scoring six points for the team, but in the end the Trojans would pull away in the second half.
    Today the Panthers welcome the Tigers to the Portal Athletic Complex for a Friday night showdown.
    Interim head coach Matt Smith said his team is playing better on the defensive side of the ball, but his players need to work on their mental toughness.
    “We have gotten a lot better on defense and right now we’re just stressing fundamentals,” Smith said. “We’ve given up a few big plays, but other than that we’ve played well.”
    Claxton (1-3) is currently riding a two-game losing streak coming into Friday’s contest.
    With the Panthers trying to avoid the team’s first 0-5 start since the 2012 season, here’s a look at some important factors in today’s game.

What to watch: Run game
    The Panthers need to establish the run game early in order to be successful against the Tigers, Smith said.
    That may be difficult to do considering one of the Panthers’ leading rushers, Malik Williams, went down with an injury last week against Johnson County.
    Coach Smith said Williams is good to go for this week, however, the amount of playing time he receives depends on his running back.
    “He’s cleared to go. For precaution measures he was taken off the. He didn’t have a concussion or any injuries but he said he was a little sore. If it was me I would have seven broken bones,” said Smith, laughing. “He’s cleared to go and he’s practiced all week.”

Who to watch: Fred Holloway/Jake Brown
    With Williams’ given the green light for today’s game, there’s still uncertainty on how well he can perform.
    Smith said the Panthers have a very capable backup in running back Fred Holloway. If Williams is not at 100 percent, Holloway will need to fill that void.
Starting quarterback Jake Brown also returns to the starting lineup for the Panthers. Brown recovered from a hand injury suffered at Emanuel County Institute a few weeks ago.
    “He’s cleared to go as well and he will be back at the quarterback position,” Smith said of Brown’s return to the lineup. “If Malik (Williams) can’t play it won’t change our game plan. We’ve got a solid backup in Fred Holloway.”

Key Factor: 4th quarter
    The Panthers have just 32 players on the team roster, meaning multiple players fill in at more than one position. With a limited roster, Portal is able to make it work until fatigue sets in.
    Against Josey and Treutlen, the Panthers led after halftime. In the fourth quarter however, the game began to slip away.
    Smith said conditioning is something his players have worked on all week in practice.
    “If you look at our schedule we were up 7-6 against Josey and up 7-6 against Treutlen. Most of our games have been tight ball games, but we’re making mistakes and they’ve gotten away in the fourth quarter. When you are playing the same 13 or 14 kids it becomes a factory,” Smith said.
    If the Panthers can stay fresh, Portal may have a chance to get their first win of the season.

    Horace Holloman may be reached at (912) 489-9408.