PORTAL — After a week of rest, the Portal Panthers are hoping that a fresh start will help to start building towards what they want to achieve this season.
Portal entered the 2016 campaign as a team that had plenty of recent struggles. Head coach Matt Smith believed — and still believes — that this season can end on a much better note for his team, but an 0-3 start has left the Panthers with plenty of work to do as they come out of their bye week.
Next up for Portal is tonight's trip to Alamo to take on a surprising Wheeler County squad.
The Bulldogs (3-1, 1-0 Region 3-A) have already matched or bettered any season's win total dating back to 2004 and come into tonight's contest riding high off of consecutive wins against Montgomery County (27-6) and Glascock County (47-20).
"Our record is what it is," Smith says. "But I don't feel like this is really an 0-3 team. You look at who we've played and what (those teams) have done. We're looking for wins, but they're hard to get, so far."
Indeed, Portal opponents — including Wheeler County — are a combined 12-4 on the season.
Things don't figure to get much easier this week, but the Panthers know that their fortunes have to change in a hurry if they want to stay in contention to grab one of 24 available spots in the Class A public school state playoffs.
The biggest step toward acheiving that goal — or just notching a few wins — will be finding a more consistent offensive effort.
The Panthers have been able to mount a handful of solid drives and have the playmakers at skill positions to break off a scoring play from anywhere on the field, but untimely turnovers have made themselves an unsettling theme to this year's play. On multiple occasions, the Panthers have seemed poised to get back into (or even take control of) a game, only to see a fumble or interception turn the tables and put them behind the 8-ball once again.
Then again, getting a few more points out of the offense won't be the only challenge this week.
Wheeler County — now under the direction of head coach Randy Collins — have found an offensive spark and are averaging 35 points per game.
Even though Portal has suffered a state playoff drought bordering on a decade, it has ofter relied on huge defensive efforts to provide marquee wins each season. Combined with a good effort from the offense, another solid defensive showing could pave the way to Portal's first win of 2016.
"(Wheeler) is effective running the ball out of the shotgun spread," Smith said. "It probably helps that we've seen a lot of good offenses already who run the ball in different ways. That said, this is still going to be a big challenge for us."