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Portal's Walker steps in
Portal's Cory Walker, left, gets the offense set in the fourth quarter against Southeast Bulloch last Friday. Walker scored a rushing touchdown, ran back a punt 45 yards and picked off two SEB passes as the Panthers won 9-0. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

    PORTAL — When the Portal Panthers changed up their coaching staff and offense in the middle of spring practice, it seemed as though they were put squarely behind the eight ball. After their first game of the 2011 season, it looks like they’re ahead of the game.
    Figuring to be underdogs against a Southeast Bulloch squad that notched a decisive victory in the rivalry last season, Portal made its way down to Brooklet, strapped on the pads, and walked away with a season opening 9-0 win. It was statement for the football program — if not necessarily for style points.
    Pretty or not, the Panthers were glad to take the win, but victory didn’t come without a price as a key member of the team was lost.
    In the third quarter, senior quarterback Hunter Oglesby went down with a knee injury. Further tests showed a torn ACL and MCL, meaning that Oglesby is finished for the season.
    Stepping up to fill the void was fellow senior Corey Walker. Playing both ways to begin with, Walker stole the show. Lining up at running back earlier in the game, it was his touchdown that gave Portal the lead. Defensively, his two interceptions helped to preserve the advantage, and his leadership under center after Oglesby’s injury guided the Panthers to their first 1-0 start in five years.
    “I feel bad for Hunter,” said NeSmith. “He’s a good leader for this team and his injury is a big blow that will hurt us all season.
    “As for Corey, he’s an iron man. He’s had some experience under center and it showed in how he picked up the slack. He’ll be starting at quarterback and linebacker this week. I know that’s risky, but he’s a great athlete and a great kid and we need him out there.”
    After avenging last season’s loss to the Yellow Jackets, the Panthers now look to settle an even bigger score. Friday night, the Panthers welcome Metter to town in search of their first win over the Tigers in a 16-game stretch that spans back to the 1980 season.
    NeSmith and his Panthers are aware of the streak, but value another win more than whatever opponent it might come against.
    “We’re not going to make a big deal out of it,” said NeSmith. “We know that it’s been a long time since Portal last beat Metter, but that’s not how we’re looking at it. Our goal is to win each game as it comes along. This week, we happen to play Metter, but it’s still the same goal.”
    “We’re very excited to get that first win under our belts,” said Portal coach David NeSmith, plucked from the Statesboro High staff in May to lead the Panthers. “There were a lot of places where we didn’t execute and we could have done things better. The important thing is that we got a win, and it’s always nice to beat a cross-county rival.”
    After scoring a touchdown on its first possession of the season, Portal managed just six first downs and a field goal the rest of the way.
    A suffocating defense kept SEB pinned down deep in its own territory for the majority of the game, but the Panthers couldn’t capitalize. Portal turned the ball over three times — including a lost fumble on the SEB 1-yard line — keeping the pressure on in a game that Portal could have won much more handily.
    “I was very pleased with our defense,” said NeSmith. “They did a great job all night. Offensively, we had a few too many breakdowns. We just weren’t getting things done right up front. Those are the things we need to fix before they cost us a win.”

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