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Trojans triumph
Portal drops home opener to Johnson County
Portal defensive end Craig Ware scoops up a fumble and returns it for the Panthers' only score of the game during the second quarter Friday. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

PORTAL - The Panthers' home opener didn't go as planned Friday as the offense continued to sputter in a 19-6 loss to Johnson County at the Portal Athletic Complex.

Portal was held to 134 yards on the night as the Panthers running game struggled against a stronger and more physical Trojans' (2-3) team.

"We struggled to consistently block them," said Panthers' interim head coach Matt Smith. "Because of that, neither our passing game or running game had much time tonight."

The Panthers (0-4) were playing without starting quarterback Jake Brown, who injured his hand two weeks ago against ECI. In his place, Darius Huff stepped in to guide the offense, but was under constant pressure when he dropped back to pass and had trouble orchestrating the running game as the Trojans regularly had eight or nine defenders up close to stop the run.

Portal's offense also lost a major weapon early in the third quarter when senior running back Malik Williams had to be taken off the field on a stretcher following an injury that delayed the game for more than seven minutes. Williams took a short pass from Huff and as he turned upfield, he was tackled awkwardly. As he was going to the ground, a knee of a Johnson County defender hit Williams in the back of the head.

Smith said Williams was able to move his fingers and toes as he was on the field and he never lost consciousness but he was taken by EMS to the hospital as a precaution. While he was being wheeled off the field, Williams gave the crowd a thumbs-up to let everyone know he was ok.

The Panthers' lone score came from their defense. Trailing 12-0 late in the second quarter, Portal forced a fumble by the Trojans' Colby Price. Craig Ware scooped up the fumble and after hesitating for a moment to make sure the play wasn't ruled over, ran 27 yards to cut the lead in half.

Unfortunately for the Panthers, that was their only score of the evening.

Despite the setback, Smith said there were some positives to take away for Portal. One of those was the play of his defense. They forced two turnovers and held Johnson County for most of the night.

"I thought they played hard," Smith said. "Our offense put them in some bad spots, but they kept playing hard and making plays."

Smith also praised Huff's performance stepping in to play quarterback.

"I thought he played really well," he said. "We didn't give him a lot of time to either run or throw the ball, but he did what we asked him to do."

Ronquez Harden led the Trojans' offense, rushing for 80 yards and a touchdown on nine carries as well as adding 49 yards receiving on the night.

The Panthers will host Claxton next week for Portal's homecoming game.

On a night where neither team had much in the way of offense, Johnson County's Ronquez Harden was just what the Trojans needed. Harden ran for 80 yards and picked up 49 more as a receiver.

Box Score
JCHS 6 6 7 0 - 19
PTL 0 6 0 0 - 6

First Quarter
JCHS_Harden 4 run (Edwards kick failed) 10:20

Second Quarter
JCHS_Jackson 4 run (conversion failed) 11:41
PHS_Ware fumble return 27 yards (Bowen kick failed) 4:24

Third Quarter
JCHS_Pierce 3 run (Edwards kick) 6:06

First Downs 17 6
Total Yards 305 135
Rushes-Yards 39-185 27-61
Passing 120 74
Comp-Att-Int 6-13-0 5-11-0
Turnovers 2 3
Penalties-Yards 8-65 9-54

Rushing_JCHS: Harden 9-80, TD; PHS: Ware 8-31
Passing_JCHS: Norton 6-13-0, 120 yards; PHS: Huff 5-11-0, 74 yards
Receiving_JCHS: Harden 2-49; PHS: Williams 2-23