PORTAL — Even die-hard Portal fans might have been surprised to see the score roll in from Twin City last week.
Looking past a slow start to the season and a big loss to Emanuel County Institute in 2010, the Panthers (3-3, 2-1 Region 3-AA) rolled into ECI’s backyard and shocked the No. 3 team in Class A, vaulting into a tie for the subregion lead in the process.
Now that the celebration has died down, Portal must get right back to business as it celebrates homecoming by hosting Jenkins County tonight at 7:30 p.m.
As big as last week’s victory was – both in the region standings and in striking a blow against an old rival – the Panthers are keeping their priorities straight.
“Last week was a big shot in the arm for us,” said Portal coach David NeSmith. “It felt great to get a win like that, but as soon as Monday came around this week, we had everyone focused on Jenkins County.”
At 1-6 overall and 1-3 in sub-region play, the Eagles might not seem imposing on paper, but the Panthers aren’t taking them lightly.
After all, it was ECI that might have fallen victim to that some sense of contentment before going down last week.
The biggest battle to watch in tonight’s game will be the ongoing struggle between the Portal offensive line and a couple of stars for Jenkins County. Defensive end and University of Georgia commit Jonathan Taylor was named an Under Armour All-American last week, and teammate James DeLoach is a similar force on the line on both sides of the ball.
“You certainly can’t discount them,” said NeSmith. “Jenkins County is a very, very big team and they have some exceptional athletes.”
Still, the Panthers aren’t going to back down from their plan of attack — one that is looking smoother with each passing
week. Going up against a stout ECI defense last week, the Panthers ran the ball 34 times and didn’t pass it once. That might be the case once again tonight.
“We’re a team that wants to run the ball, and that’s what we plan to do,” said NeSmith. “We have some wrinkles that we can show, but we’re just going to line up and play our game.”
With a win, Portal can assure that it will remain at the top of the standings and — with some outside help — might even clinch a spot in the Region 3-A play-in round at the end of the regular season to determine which four teams will represent the region in the state playoffs.
All of that is quite an accomplishment for a program that hasn’t been to the postseason since 2006 and its coach who came to town just five months ago.
Still, NeSmith is just looking at the next game, and nothing else.
“It would be nice to get another win,” said NeSmith. “The seniors have worked hard to make us a winning team and it would be great to get a third straight win for the fans at homecoming.”
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.