PORTAL – When David NeSmith took over at Portal in May, there were a lot of questions hanging around a program that had won just six games in the previous four seasons.
As the Panthers (5-3, 4-1 Region 3-A) enter the final week of the regular season, there are still a lot of unanswered questions, but they have nothing to do with the rebuilding of the program and everything to do with Portal’s postseason chances.
Tonight, Portal travels to Treutlen (3-5, 2-3) for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff. A win will guarantee the Panthers at least a tie for the top spot in the sub-region, but any number scenarios could leave them as low as third.
“There’s a lot that can happen in regards to where we’ll end up,” said NeSmith. “We can’t really concern ourselves with that. We’ll talk to our guys about playoffs and all of that next week. Right now, all we can do is win our game and everything else will just play out.”
A win will run the Panthers’ sub-region record to 5-1, but both Emanuel County Institute and Johnson County are also favorites in tonight’s games and could end up with the same record. With Region 3-A’s tiebreaker system, a three-way tie puts Portal in third, while the Panthers could take the sub-region with a win and a Johnson County loss. A win and an ECI loss would leave the Panthers in second.
No matter what other teams do, Portal will have a tough test in Treutlen. Though out of the running for the top slot in the sub-region, the Vikings still have hope of making the postseason and need a win and a Wheeler County loss to notch a spot in the region play-in games next week.
“They’re a team that is desperate for a win,” said NeSmith of Treutlen. “That can make teams very dangerous. We’re going to have to play our best if we want to keep up our success.”
To keep the Vikings reined in, the Panther defense – which produced a touchdown and a blocked field goal in last week’s 14-7 win over Wheeler County – will need to shuffle up its plans. Portal spent last Friday chasing down running backs against Wheeler’s triple-option attack, but now has to contend with Treutlen’s spread offense.
“They run things out of a lot of formations,” said NeSmith. “The biggest thing is that Treutlen has a lot of good athletes. There are a handful of guys that can hurt us if we let them get loose.”
Offensively, the Panthers will stick to their wishbone attack. Portal hasn’t so much as attempted a pass in the last two weeks, but being one-dimensional doesn’t seem to be slowing it down as Corey Walker and Trai Gadson are both capable of carrying the ball 20-plus times each
Those two will definitely factor into tonight’s game, but NeSmith also expressed that some new faces might get a chance to prove what they can do with the ball in their hands.
There are many possibilities for how both sub-regions will shake out, but Portal is assured of a spot in next week’s play-in round to determine which four teams will represent Region 3-A in the state playoffs.
If the Panthers are in the top two of their sub-region, they will get to host their play-in game. If not, they’ll likely be headed to Savannah to take on Calvary Day.
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.