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Portal in for a test at high-powered ECI

    PORTAL — Two weeks ago, Portal took a big step in notching its first sub-region win of the season. Tonight, another big challenge awaits.
    The Panthers (2-3, 1-1 Region 3-A) are in contention to earn a spot in the region play-in at the end of the regular season, but old rival Emanuel County Institute (6-0, 3-0) will be the stiffest test that Portal has faced all season.
    “We know that ECI has a very good football tradition,” said PHS coach David NeSmith. “We’re just going to go out there and give it our best shot. ECI has a good team, but we’ve shown that we can play pretty well, too.”
    After dropping a 14-0 decision to Johnson County in its first sub-region game, Portal responded well with a 29-6 win over Montgomery County September 23. The win was a welcome turnaround for a Panther offense that had been struggling, but also reaffirmed the beliefs that the Panthers and their coaching staff have held all along.
    “We’ve been coming along nicely,” said NeSmith. “We’ve still got some injuries and areas that we can improve on, but we think that we’re heading in the right direction.”
    Of course, the victory over Montgomery is a far cry from the test Portal will face from the No. 3-ranked Bulldogs.
    ECI has rolled through the first half of its schedule, and armed with running backs Wezley Ealey and Buck Moody and quarterback Caleb Pressey, the Bulldogs have been lighting up scoreboards and reminding fans of the state title contenders from the not-so-distant past.
    Portal failed to contend against ECI last year as the Bulldogs rolled to a 58-0 win on the Panthers’ home turf, but Portal is determined not to let that happen again. Despite the unblemished record, the Bulldogs have been tested by a couple of opponents already this season.
    Fortunately for the Panthers, they have already had to face the same teams and have been taking notes on what they can do to put pressure on ECI.
    “We’ve watched some tape from ECI’s games against Claxton and Metter,” said NeSmith. “We saw how they approached the game. I think Claxton could have won their game. Truthfully, I still think we should have won against Metter
    “There’s a lot that can happen in each game. ECI is a very dangerous team, but we’ll have a game plan. It will be a tough win to get, but this could be one of those special games for our kids.”
    For the Bulldogs, another trip to the Region 3-A play-in round is all but guaranteed already. As for Portal, a win will go a long way towards adding the Panthers to the party at the end of the regular season and will also keep them from having to rely on outside help in the season’s final weeks.

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