Southeast Bulloch And Portal will resume their cross-county rivalry tonight as both teams look to start off the 2012 season with a win.
The Yellow Jackets are coming off of a 1-9 season, but have reason for optimism. Southeast Bulloch returns a host of experience, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
Yellow Jackets Head Coach Pat Collins enters his third year at the helm with quarterback Cole Carter expected to guide the SEB offense. Carter gained valuable experience last year splitting time with the now departed Taylor Burroughs. In the backfield, Carter will have Antonio McMillan, Tyler Epps and Cory McCollum who each bring experience.
"These players have been running the same plays and using the same terminology for two years now," said Yellow Jacket Head Coach Pat Collins. "We’re able to focus on refining (their) skills now.
Defensively, the Jackets will try to fill the hole left by defensive end/linebacker Jamal Johnson who is now on the Georgia Southern roster. Collins believes more consistent play from the defense can help make up for the loss of Johnson.
Especially early in the year, Collins said it was important that his team line up properly, tackle well and keep the ball in front of them.
"We know they have excellent skill players and we’ve got defend against the big play."
While SEB has experience, Portal will be looking for its underclassmen to step up. This year’s Panther team is trying to replace 15 seniors from 2011’s 6-4 season that saw Portal just barely miss the playoffs.
"We’re going to be a very young team and we’ve got guys in some new positions," said Portal Head Coach David Nesmith. "We’ve got a young group who are going to have to grow up in a hurry."
In fact, the Panthers only have six seniors on the roster.
Portal will be running the wishbone with sophomore quarterback Evan Street, who started nearly every game last year after Hunter Oglesby was injured in the season opener. Lining up behind Street will be returning players Larry Hough and Casey Jones who will provide familiarity with Nesmith’s scheme.
Nesmith said the Panthers have focused on getting better each and every day as his young squad prepares for the season. Among the challenges, he said, were getting the freshman prepared to play on both sides of the ball as well as the longer practices that come with high school football.
This is the third consecutive year Portal and SEB have faced off to open the season. Southeast Bulloch won in 2010 while Portal returned the favor last year.
"This is always a big rivalry game," said Nesmith. "Our kids look forward to it as I’m sure their kids do too. It’s a good crowd, a good environment and always fun."
While Collins said they try to focus on the next game, he knows a game against Portal is also special.
"Both communities really rally around these teams," he said. "When you have fans from both schools supporting their teams it makes for a really festive environment for Friday night football."
Kickoff is set for 7:30 in Portal.