First Downs 7 14
Rushes-Yards 34-234 36-172
Passing Yards 0 97
Total Yards 235 269
Comp-Att-Int 0-0-0 9-14-4
Turnovers 0 6
Penalties-Yards 13-100 6-45
Rushing: PHS: Walker, 6-81, TD. ECI: Ealey, 20-102.
Passing: ECI: Pressey, 9-14, 97 yards, TD, 4 INT.
Receiving: ECI: Purcell, 2-28, TD
PHS 7 3 0 7 — 17
ECI 0 0 0 7 — 7
8:44 — Walker (PHS) 37 run (Lockley kick)
6:46 — Lockley (PHS) 45 FG
1:57 — Hardaway (PHS) 36 run (Lockley kick)
1:16 — Purcell (ECI) 16 pass from Pressey (Pressey kick)
TWIN CITY — It was Emanuel County Institute's homecoming, but the Portal Panthers were the ones that made a statement.
With several players out with injuries and more on the field fighting through them, with the starting quarterback out since opening week, out-numbered three to one with only 24 players available and riding a five-year losing streak against the Bulldogs, Portal slugged its way to a 17-7 win Friday at Rountree Stadium to shock the No. 3 team in Class A.
It was a marquee win for the Panthers (3-3, 2-1 Region 3W-A) and first-year coach David NeSmith.
"I don't even know what to say," he said after being congratulated by just about every PHS fan in attendance. "I'm so excited right now."
With several linemen going both ways, the Panthers recorded six tackles for loss against the highly-touted ECI offense and opened up enough holes for their own running backs to average 6.9 yards per carry and score on long runs by Corey Walker (6 carries, 81 yards) and fullback Donyah Hardaway (4-49).
"We had two weeks to prepare for this game. We had a lot of us get hurt, but we said we need to step it up. This is a big game," said one of the biggest linemen, Joseph Lockley, who also happens to be the Portal kicker. "Between Isiah Rich, Galvin Hagins, Denzel Washington, all of us, we knew we had to step it up. Coach is always telling us it all starts on offensive line and defensive line."
The Panthers held ECI (6-1, 3-1) in check, forcing six turnovers plus a turnover on downs.
Every PHS score was preceded by a Bulldog turnover, including Hardaway's 36-yard run up the gut with 1:57 to go to make the score 17-0. The drive was set up by the third Portal interception, snagged by Trai Gadson.
Emanuel answered with a three-play drive capped off with a touchdown pass from Caleb Pressey (9-14, 97 yards) to Greg Purcell, and things got interesting when the Bulldogs recovered an onside kick trailing by 10 with 1:14 to go, but Walker picked off a pass that was batted in the air by Ryan White to seal the deal.
The first of ECI turnovers happened after Portal had an uneventful three-and-out on the game's first drive.
The ensuing punt took a bounce at the Bulldogs 34-yard line and was muffed by Laquan Lanier. The Panthers recovered the fumble.
Walker, switching off under center with freshman quarterback Evan Street, took quick advantage from the quarterback position. Behind the blocking of the entire PHS backfield, Walker scored from 37 yards out on a busted play for the Panthers' first score and an early momentum swing.
"We got them in a position they haven't been in all year long — down," said NeSmith.
Emanuel County put something together after the teams traded punts, working a nine-play drive all the way to the Portal 33-yard line.
On 2nd-and-9, Pressey attempted to throw long, but Tre Williams dropped back into coverage and picked off the pass, returning it 41 yards to the 31-yard line.
Portal got into trouble offensively when a holding call and a delay-of-game penalty forced 3rd-and-32. Walker managed to weave his way for a 17-yard gain to the PHS 25-yard line.
The rest was up to Lockley's leg.
The senior defensive tackle blasted a 42-yard field goal that put the Panthers ahead 10-0 at half time.
The Bulldogs had one last chance to score before halftime, but the third turnover of the game, a fumble by Wezley Ealey (20-102) on the Portal 17-yard line, left ECI scoreless as Portal ran out the second-quarter clock.
The Bulldogs were without running back Darion Moody, and Ealey wore his number, No. 1, instead of his usual No. 3, in tribute to his teammate.
The Panthers host Jenkins County Friday at 7:30 p.m.
Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.