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Rivals prepare for showdown
Portal welcomes SEB
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    In one of the most anticipated games of the Bulloch County prep football season, Southeast Bulloch (0-1) will hit Highway 80 and head just a few miles west to take on cross-county rival Portal (0-1) in the newly-renovated Panther Stadium tonight at 7:30 p.m.
    Fans from both sides will invade Portal to see if the Panthers can turn around last year’s 7-6 loss at SEB, and because both teams are trying out new offenses, things could get interesting.
    Portal, running the triple option for the first time, will keep it on the ground to try and grind it out against the deeper Yellow Jacket defense. Depth may be a problem on both sides for the Panthers.
    “We had a lead mid-way through the third quarter (last week) against Morgan County,” said Portal head coach Justin Chester, “and we just seemed to kind of wear down a bit. Teams that have a lot of depth like a Southeast Bulloch — eventually it’s going to catch up with us both ways no matter how hard we sprint and condition. I just hope some good things can happen to us early in the ballgame and we can just kind of get a little momentum that can carry us for 48 minutes.”
    The Jackets also had a tough time last week, falling to Toombs County 33-6, and are still working on installing the passing offense that head coach John Kenny brought with him to Brooklet.
    “We preach to the kids (to take things) one game at a time,” said Kenny. “We’re still focusing on ourselves, more than anything, and trying to improve. I know our kids are aware of the cross-county rivalry, but we’re still trying to focus on ourselves.”
    Southeast Bulloch quarterback Joe Wilson got off to a shaky start in last week’s loss as he continues to adapt to the Jacket’s new spread offense, completing only 4 of 11 passes for 33 yards.
    “It’s just like any quarterback in a new system,” said Kenny. “It takes time. Joe understands that, and I told him this week that he’s got to keep his head up, he’s got to keep getting quality reps and before long it’ll be like second nature to him. He’s a good kid, working hard and he’ll do a good job for us.”
    The Panthers are ready to show SEB something a little different with their option offense, and the Yellow Jacket scout team has been working hard all week trying to mimic the speed of the Portal attack.
    Portal has a lot to bring to the table on the ground, with an offense led by first-year quarterback Stephen Cox and a barrage of running backs that can attack from all angles.
    “They’ve got a lot of weapons,” said Kenny. “It’s been very hard to try and get our scout team to run that offense within the week.”
    Portal shares similar concerns defensively as they will be forced to defend the pass just a little bit more than they are used to. Most of the competition in Class A is all about the run game, so the Portal defense will have to focus on the passing aspect SEB’s game plan while playing a bunch of kids on both sides of the ball. And they still have to worry about SEB running back Tharon Davis.
    “They got so many good athletes over there,” said Chester. “They could give the ball to any of those guys at any given time and they could go down the field for a big play. That Davis kid over there is something special, and (wide receiver Tony) Raymond can go, too. It’s just going to be a matter of bending a little bit, but don’t break.
    “Them putting the ball in the air — it concerns me. (Wilson) is getting more confident each ball game he plays. Certainly, we’ve got to really play our A game on defense.”
    A big challenge for both teams, the game should live up to the anticipation. Coaches, fans and players alike have had this game in mind, and like last year, both teams will be doing everything in their power to knock off their rival. For the Panthers, they’re just glad to be back home.
    “You lift weights all year, you have spring practice, and you go through the heat in the summertime to play in front of your home crowd,” said the PHS coach. “We had a long bus ride last week… a lot of people couldn’t make the trip. They’re ready to see us play. The guys are excited, and because it’s (against) our friends and cousins from the other side of the county, that makes it even more meaningful.”

    Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9404.