PORTAL — While Thursday night’s matchup with Tattnall County was only a scrimmage, the Portal football program is confident that it just took a step in the right direction.
Playing under the lights for the first time this season, the Panthers hosted Tattnall in a controlled scrimmage that consisted of six eight-minute periods. Going up against a team that advanced to the Class AA quarterfinals last season and is being predicted to have similar success this season, Portal matched up well, allowing just two touchdowns with its first-string defense and scoring two of their own on offense.
The scoreboard read 24-12 in favor of the Battle Creek Warriors at the end of the night — though no special teams plays were conducted and teams ran 10 plays at a time instead of charting first downs or turnovers — but the Panthers had plenty of reasons to be optimistic.
“Tonight was really the first time we’ve gone full contact for an extended period of time,” said PHS coach David NeSmith. “With the heat, we’ve been in just shells a lot and lightning the other day chased us off the field when we went full pads. There were mistakes tonight, but those happen in scrimmages. Overall, I was very pleased with the effort.”
Switching to the wishbone offense — their third scheme in as many seasons — the Panthers looked shaky at times, but also showed flashes of brilliance.
There were multiple botched snaps and a few breakdowns in blocking, but senior running back Corey Walker still found room to gain 66 yards on seven carries, including a 47-yard touchdown run late in the game. Fellow senior Tre Williams was equally impressive, totaling 54 yards on nine touches.
“Those guys are a couple that we’ll really count on,” said NeSmith. “We don’t have the numbers and depth of other teams. It’s up to guys like Tre and Corey to step it up for us.”
While the running game will dominate Portal’s game plan, the passing game was also opened up.
Senior quarterback Hunter Oglesby completed both of his passes — the first one going for 56 yards and a touchdown to Williams in the first period — but also went down on three of Tattnall’s six sacks on the night.
Even worse, Oglesby suffered a high ankle sprain in his right leg in the fourth period and spent the final few series on the sidelines. Oglesby was knocked out of several games early last season with a similar injury to the same leg.
“That’s unfortunate for us,” said NeSmith. “Obviously, Hunter is a very important part of this team. We’ll have him rest it for a couple of days and hopefully it will feel better soon.”
Defensively, the Panthers’ second string was vulnerable to big play’s from the Warriors’ spread passing attack, but the Portal starters also produced some impressive stops.
Tattnall ran eight plays from inside the Portal 7-yard line throughout the night, but were only able to score twice. A large part of the Panthers’ success was due to efforts along the defensive front from Denzell Washington, Jameson Mikel and Joe Lockley. The three combined for seven tackles for a loss on the night — four of them on plays where Portal was backed up to its own goal line.
“We have a good bit of talent,” said NeSmith. “It’s just a matter of being more consistent. Tattnall was really hurting us with some plays and we also were a little tired towards the end. We’ve got two more weeks where we need to get our conditioning up and be ready to go once the season starts.”
Portal begins regular season play August 26 as the Panthers travel to Brooklet to face cross-county rival Southeast Bulloch.
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.