It has been quite the roller coaster ride for the Portal Panthers in their 2015 football season. Before the start of the season the squad switched head coaches, battled injuries and went head-to-head with some of the top teams in the area.
Now, the Panthers’ season comes to an end today as they travel on the road to take on the Wheeler County Bulldogs (3-6, 1-3 Region 3-A).
Portal’s (1-8, 1-4) interim head coach Matt Smith said he wished his first year with the team resulted in a better record. However, he did say he admires his players for sticking through a tough season.
“I certainly wish record could have been better. We’re not a 1-8 program. We’ve been competitive in every ballgame. We’ve played very well at times and we’ve never quit. They never folded up,” Smith said.
The Panthers want to end the year on a high note and this team matches up well against the Bulldogs. As the Portal seniors are set to turn the page on their high school football chapter, here’s a couple things to look out for in today’s game.
What to watch: Run game
The rushing attack for the Panthers rejuvenated last week against Jenkins High School. Malik Williams and Darius Huff led the charge and helped the Panthers put points on the board despite a 29-22 loss.
Smith said their rushing attack, which usually features a bruising style up the middle, will be a difference maker in the matchup against the Bulldogs.
“What we like to do causes them problems. If we execute, we should be Ok. They run a pretty generic defense so we matchup with them on offense pretty well,” Smith said.
Who to watch: Jurtavious Ferguson
Don’t be surprised Friday when you hear the name Jurtavious Ferguson. Chances are he’ll be all over the field. The junior middle linebacker tallied up 101 total tackles this season, 62 of which were solo tackles.
Ferguson can also be a playmaker behind the line of scrimmage. This season he leads the team with tackles for a loss (17).
“He’s a big linebacker type and he’s always all over the field or around the ball,” Smith said.
If the gameplan is to run up the middle against the Bulldogs, they’ll have to work on getting past Ferguson.
Key factor: Big plays
Big plays allowed Jenkins to get back into the game against the Panthers last week. Portal led 14-0 with just four minutes left before halftime, but a big kickoff return allowed Jenkins to get into good field position and score before the half.
On the first play from scrimmage after halftime a big run was all Jenkins needed to steal momentum and eventually lead to a victory.
The Panthers can’t afford to give up big plays against Wheeler.
““We need to end with a win. They’ve worked very hard and it would be huge for the kids coming back to end on a positive note,” Smith said.