Portal trying to get back on track
Portal (2-1) at Wilkinson County (1-2)
The Portal Panthers are coming off of back-to-back heartbreaking losses. Two weeks ago, they lost a 22-21 decision to Screven County in the last minutes on the road. Last Friday they were tied with top-10 ranked Bryan County before allowing the Redskins to score a touchdown with less than a minute to play as they fell 22-14.
I am pleased by how hard we played on both sides of the ball and special teams were much better,” said Portal coach Jason McEachin. “We improved in the turnover department, but our goal is to have zero and we didn’t quite accomplish that. We were able to get Amir Jackson the ball a little more and didn’t quite hit on some, but it wasn’t from a lack of trying. We stood in there and went toe-to-toe with a top-10 ranked team for about 47 minutes but allowed that touchdown late and just couldn’t close them out.
McEachin knows the importance of peaking at the right time and he likes his team’s trajectory.
“I feel like we are continuing to improve and that is what you want to do in your non-region games,” McEachin said. “I think our non-region schedule went from mediocre to pretty good over the last few weeks with the schedule changes we have had. We are going to use that as a way to improve and get ready for what we hope with be a playoff run.”
This week the Panthers go up against 1-2 Wilkinson County. The Warriors beat Portal 23-13 a year ago in Portal but come into this week’s game having given up 111 points while only scoring 36.
“They have played two really good teams in Dublin (64-0) and Greene County (41-6), with their one win coming against Crawford County (30-6),” McEachin said. “I think this will be a good road test for us. They have several athletes who can really run and catch. On film they don’t look quite as good as they were last year, but they still have some talent in spots where if you aren’t locked in, they can really hurt you.”
Portal and Wilkinson are scheduled for a rare 6 p.m. start Friday in Irwinton.
Huge non-region clash for Jackets
Hephzibah (3-1) at Southeast Bulloch (3-1)
The Southeast Bulloch Yellow Jackets are currently 3-1 after a 17-0 shutout on the road at Tattnall County. Head coach Jared Zito felt the score could have been a little higher, but the Jackets fumbled twice in Warrior territory. Zito also commented on how quickly the game ended with both teams running the ball primarily.
“We wanted to make sure our team didn’t have a letdown after a big win the previous week against Effingham and I thought for the most part we stayed focus,” Zito said. “We were terrific on defense limiting them to a total of 25 snaps and only two first downs in coming up with a shutout. On offense we did have those two turnovers, but I thought we did a great job of eating the clock with long, sustained drives. We don’t have a lot of explosive play-making ability out there but we are doing a good job of working on our strengths.”
This week the Jackets return home as they hist 3-1 Hephzibah. The Rebels come in with victories over Westside Augusta, Augusta Christian and Tattnall County. Their lone loss was a 16-13 setback two weeks ago to Laney.
“They are a good football team and we are going to have to clean up some of the turnovers we have been having especially when you are playing a good team,” Zito said. “We are scheming for everyone we play, but our goal is to get better each week as a team. We are hoping to get better each week so that when region play starts, we can be peaking because we have a tough region.”
One player that the Jackets will have to try and slow down is 6-0, 215-pound running back Telly Johnson who is averaging over 143 yards per games and has nine touchdowns rushing.
“The key to the game is making sure we wrap up and tackle Johnson,” Zito said. He is a two-way player who plays running back and linebacker and has been getting some college offers. He is the best running back we have seen, and maybe the best player we have seen this year. He is a big load to bring down and we have to make sure we tackle him around his legs.”
Southeast Bulloch and Hephzibah are scheduled for a 7:30 kickoff Friday at Fred Shaver Field on Brooklet.
Blue Devils facing tough road test
Statesboro (1-3) at Burke County (4-0)
It has been a frustrating start to the season for the Statesboro Blue Devils and first year head coach Matt Dobson. Statesboro is currently 1-3 and was within a touchdown of both Effingham County and Wayne County in the second half before things fell apart in both games.
The Blue Devils trailed top-10 ranked Wayne County 17-13 in the third quarter, and had the ball inside the 20-yard line twice in the fourth quarter down by a score against Effingham and were unable to come up with points.
“The coaches and kids have been upset with the last two losses,” Dobson said. “We have to just control what we can control and get better at, and a few plays here and there and we could be 3-1 with a totally different outlook. The kids are still battling and there are lots of things to be encouraged by.”
One thing Dobson has tried to guard against is the team getting down on themselves as things haven’t gone well and the Blue Devils are in the same spot they were in this time last year.
“I think as coaches you have to lead by example and show we are trusting in them,” Dobson said. “We have tried to show them how close we have been to having a great record. We are also still two weeks from our real season starting and that is our region schedule. I have seen teams like Colquitt County start the year 0-5 and finish their year 9-6 having went on play for a state championship. The purpose of non-region games is to get us ready for region play.
The Gauntlet continues for the Blue Devils as they play their second straight top-10 team as they travel to fifth ranked 4-0 Burke County. The Bears are under the leadership of former Georgia Southern Eagle Franklin Stephens who is well aware of the Blue Devils after his years at Ware County.
“Coach Stephens is a tremendous head coach,” Dobson said. “They are a well-coached, disciplined hard-nosed football team. The game is going to come down to physicality and who can make the least number of mistakes. We are excited about playing them. I’d rather play a team like this than a team that isn’t very good and won’t challenge us.”
The Bears are led offensively by quarterback Sean Vandiver who has thrown for 452 yards and five touchdowns. Leading the way on the ground is junior A’maerre Willaims with 345 yards rushing and four touchdowns. The Bear’s defense is led by linebacker Brandon Lively with 47 tackles including 24 solo and five for loss.
“Their Wing-T attack is good,” Dobson said. “What makes me the most nervous is how good their quarterback is in their attack. You can’t just load up and stop the run as they have shown they can throw the ball as well. They are simple in what they do defensively, but they are really good at it. They line up and run well to the football. We are going to have to be the more physical team, establish the run early and generate some first downs.”
Statesboro and Wayne County are set for a 7:30 p.m. start Friday in Waynesboro.