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Portal stuns perennial power Savannah Christian

Friday Night Live replay
SCPS vs. Portal
8 p.m., Monday & Tuesday, Northland Cable Channel 99

Box Score
                      SCPS    PHS

First Downs        10        8
Rush Yards        3-129    32-123   
Pass Yards        112        41
Total Yards        241        164
Passing            7-16-3    4-8-0
Turnovers              4        0
Penalties           3-25        2-10

Individual Leaders
Rushing: SCPS: Thomas, 16-69, TD. PHS: Huff, 7-61.
Passing: SCPS: Thomas, 7-16-112. PHS: Street, 2-5-24.
Receiving: SCPS: Benton, 3-70. PHS: Thomas, 3-33.

SCPS        0    7    0    0  --  7   
PHS        10    0    0    0   -- 10

1st Quarter
6:37 — Buchner (PHS) 33 field goal
2:59 – Hardaway (PHS) 10 run (Buchner kick)
2nd  Quarter
7:18 — Thomas (SCPS) 13 run (O’Brien kick)

    PORTAL — Savannah Christian never stopped trying to claw its way to a win, but the Portal Panthers never gave an inch.
    Staring down the Raiders — a team it had never beaten in five tries — Portal won a defensive struggle, scoring 10 points in the first quarter and hanging on for a 10-7 victory Friday night.
    “This was such a big win for these guys,” Portal coach David NeSmith said. “We were in a tough one, but we never quit trying. We never quit fighting.”
    For the Panthers (2-4-1, 2-1 Region 3-A), Friday night was far from the first tooth-and-nail struggle they had found themselves in. Portal has been within 14 points of its opponent in three of its four losses, but wasn’t about to let another one slip away.
    Savannah Christian (2-4-1, 0-3) quarterback Brandon Thomas kept the Raiders alive, converting a fourth-and-3 with just over three minutes to play, but couldn’t get his team back in front.
    The Raiders drove inside the Portal 40 with just under a minute to play, but Harrison Sherrod picked off Thomas’ desperation heave on another fourth-down attempt to seal the win.
    “I knew I had it,” said Sherrod, who recorded two interceptions. “Once I came down with it, I was just telling myself not to fumble.”
    Sherrod went to a knee, and Evan Street took two more to seal the win.
    Turnovers were the key to success for Portal, which stole the ball away four times while not surrendering any of its own.
    Sherrod’s two interceptions spoiled Savannah Christian’s comeback attempt while two other turnovers set the stage for Portal’s points.
    On the game’s opening drive, the Raiders drove to midfield before stalling. They lined up to punt, but Thomas took a short snap and fired downfield. Reading the fake all the way, Marquise Wells stepped in front of the pass and returned it to the Savannah 23.
    The Panthers couldn’t reach the end zone, but Jannis Bruchner booted a 33-yard field goal for the early 3-0 lead.
    Not learning its lesson, Savannah Christian went for it on fourth down once again on its next drive. Thomas sprinted left on an option, but Casey Jones tipped the option pitch. The ball bounced right up to Jones, who returned it to the Raiders’ 13. Two plays later, Donyah Hardaway sprinted in from 10 yards out to stretch the lead to 10-0.
    “Those turnovers were so big for us,” Portal assistant coach Josh Thompson said. “We knew we were in for a fight. We made some huge plays and just hung tough the whole game.”
    Thomas scampered in from 13 yards out midway through the second quarter, but that marked the end of the scoring for the night.
    Portal’s offense managed just 164 total yards on the night, but managed key third-down conversions throughout the second half. The Panthers’ extended drives helped to run out clock and kept the Raiders’ offense off the field.
    Of Savannah Christian’s three possessions in the second half, one ended with the Portal defense stopping Thomas short on a fourth down deep in Panther territory.
    The other two ended with the ball in Sherrod’s hands.
    It didn’t take long for word to spread of Portal’s momentous win. On the other end of the county, former Portal coach and current SEB head man Pat Collins offered his congratulations.
    “That’s terrific news,” Collins said. “Congratulations to David NeSmith and Josh Thompson, all those folks in Portal. That’s a huge win for those folks in that school and that town. They’re doing a great job over there.”
    From here, the Panthers will try to build on their momentum. Portal remains in the hunt to come out on top of its sub-region with games against Savannah Country Day and Calvary Day leading up to the region playoffs in the final week of the regular season.

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