PORTAL - Portal’s explosive offense was unable to find any rhythm and costly penalties at inopportune times doomed the Panthers Friday night as they fell to Wilkinson County 23-13 Friday night.
The loss drops Portal to 3-2 on the season but the Panthers have yet to play a region game.
The Panthers struggled to move the ball offensively all night with their two touchdowns coming on short drives that didn’t take up much time. Portal struggled to find any consistency on offense as the Wilkinson County defensive line was able to get in the Panther backfield all night.
“We had trouble all night with missed blocks and missed assignments. It looked like they were playing a step faster than us all night,” said Portal Head Coach Jason McEachin after the game. “It really felt like they wanted this win tonight more than we did. That’s what it felt like watching us play.”
Wilkinson County opened the scoring midway through the third quarter on a Jordan Jackson six-yard touchdown run. Earlier in the drive it appeared Portal had forced a turnover on downs, but a roughing the passer penalty gave WCHS new life and they were able to score three plays later.
Portal answered just two plays later when quarterback Elijah Coleman was able to get free for one of the few times on the night and raced untouched 75-yards to tie up the game.
The Warriors answered on their next possession, going 61 yards on nine plays and aided again by a Panther penalty This time it was a targeting penalty following an 11-yard run to the Panthers’ 20 yard line. Two plays later, Garin Adside was able to outrun the Portal defense to the corner of the endzone to give WCHS a 13-7 lead.
Wilkinson County looked to be on their way to another touchdown on their next possession, but the Panthers were able to force a fumble and recover it on their own 1-yard line.
Two plays later, however, the Warriors defense line was able to break through and tackle Landon Ross in the endzone for a safety.
On the ensuing Warriors’ possession, Wilkinson County went 38 yards on four plays for the touchdown and again a big part of that was Portal penalties, including an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to move Wilkinson County close to the goal line.
“We had too many penalties,” McEachin said. “When you play as undisciplined as we did tonight you’re not going to beat anybody and it caught up to us.”
Flags were flying all night as the two teams combined for 29 accepted penalties on the night, including numerous personal foul and unsportsmanlike conduct fouls.
Portal was penalized 12 times for 111 yards while Wilkinson County was penalized 150 yards on 17 penalties.
“I have to figure out how we, as a program, can be more disciplined on the field because that’s totally unacceptable and that starts with me,” he said.
Portal added a late touchdown when Coleman was able to get loose for a 13-yard score, but the comeback fell short.
Both teams were unable to put up any points in the first half with Portal missing a 30-yard field goal on their opening drive of the game.
That came following a big defensive stand by the Portal defense as they were able to keep the Warriors out of the end zone twice from the 1-yard line on the game’s first possession.
Wilkinson County appeared to score late in the first half following a 42-yard punt return Jeremiah Hill that saw him outrun the Portal special teams to the corner and cut upfield for what looked like a touchdown.
Officials, however, flagged WCHS for an illegal block in the back as well as an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty which negated the score and kept the game tied at zero at halftime.
McEachin said the defense played well, but they were on the field too much as Panthers’ offense struggled to put together any consistent drives.
“If you give average teams that many opportunities to run plays they’re going to find the end zone,” he said. “We couldn’t get them off the field and a lot of that was because of penalties.”
Wilkinson County ended the night with 396 yards of offense, including 366 on the ground. Portal, meanwhile, was only able to grind out 241 yards of offense, with 114 of those coming on two plays.
Portal will look to regroup as they prepare to host Georgia School for Innovation and Classics next week.