Portal (0-0) at Southeast Bulloch (0-0)
7:30 p.m., Today
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BROOKLET — For the fourth consecutive season Southeast Bulloch and Portal will make the opening night of high school football an all-Bulloch County affair.
Last season’s opening game served as a clue as to what would follow for both schools. A 21-6 victory for the Yellow Jackets of SEB was the first of four wins — a vast improvement on the preceding years. Portal had come within a win of making the state playoffs in 2011, but the loss to SEB was the first of nine consecutive setbacks for the Panthers, who were only able to claim a victory in the final week of the season.
As the 2013 season begins, both schools are expecting improvements.
“I think that everyone is certainly looking forward to a good season,” SEB coach Pat Collins said. “I know that Portal’s record last season doesn’t reflect the team we’ll be facing. I think we have a good group, but we’ll need to be playing our best.”
“We really liked some things we saw in our preseason scrimmage. I think we’re definitely in a better spot than we were last year,” Portal coach David NeSmith said. “We’ll have our hands full with Southeast, but I fully expect us to compete hard for four quarters and give them a good game.”
The Panthers will certainly be better equipped to contend for a win this time around. Quarterback Evan Street and running back Travon Washington (injury) and lineman Andy Harlow (transfer) all sat out last year’s opener. Their participation — along with a few more transfers and a much more experienced squad — should give the Panthers much more confidence heading into play.
Conversely, the Yellow Jackets took a big hit in the preseason. SEB has the vast majority of its starters returning this season and is loaded with upperclassmen, but senior running back Antonio McMillan injured his knee in a scrimmage. The injury isn’t expected to keep McMillan out for long, but he is day-to-day and there is a chance he won’t see action in tonight’s game.
Still, the Jackets are looking to control the pace of play and assert their size and depth advantage over the Panthers. With a stout defensive front and three all-region nominees on the O-line, SEB is looking to make its hay in the trenches.
“We have to take advantage of every strength we can,” Collins said. “That’s always the strategy. We have to accentuate our strengths and minimize our weaknesses.”
For all of the extra talent that Portal brings to the opener this year, it will be down one head coach. NeSmith was ejected from the Panthers’ final game of last season and – following GHSA rules – must sit out tonight’s game as well.
Josh Thompson, who played at Statesboro and Auburn before coaching stints at Statesboro, SEB and Portal will serve as head coach for the Panthers and will call defensive plays. Brian Lawson will direct Portal’s offense.
“I don’t think it will have an effect on our guys,” NeSmith said. “Our players are prepared and ready to get the season going. Me not being on the sidelines is going to be much harder on me than it will be on them.”
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.