PORTAL — At the end of their games, the Portal Panther football team gathers with the cheerleaders in front of the marching band to sing the school’s alma mater. After Thursday night’s 28-23 win over Robert Toombs Christian Academy, spontaneous chanting broke out among the students, band and fans who were there.
“Three and Oh! Three and Oh!”
There’s certainly cause for excitement among the Panthers faithful as Portal hasn’t started a 3-0 season since 2005. In fact, in the previous four years, the Panthers have only won three games combined.
“We are extremely proud of the fact that we are 3-0,” said head coach Jason McEachin. “In two of those three wins, the fourth quarter comeback against Hawkinsville and the fourth quarter win from behind here, those are game-breaking wins for our program. Having two hard-fought wins in the fourth quarter where we learned to fight through adversity and that we can do it will only pay off as we go.
A two-hour weather delay meant the match kicked off at nearly 8:30 p.m. instead of the scheduled 6:30 p.m. kick-off for a Thursday night game.
When the game finally started, Portal wasted no time jumping. On the second play of the game, junior quarterback Elijah Coleman showed his elusiveness and speed by managing to break free for the first of his three rushing touchdowns of the night. This one was a 52 yard score.
Robert Toombs responded with a field goal to cut the lead to 7-3.
The Panthers responded early in the second quarter. Taking over at RTCA 47, Portal hit the two-yard line in five plays, the most significant being a 34-yard catch by Amir Jackson in the series opener. Coleman managed to hit him from two yards out to extend Portal’s lead to 14-3.
The ensuing kickoff saw Portal Pooch hit it and when the Crusaders failed to catch it, the Panthers were able to pounce on the ball at the RTCA 34-yard line.
A play later, Coleman found Jackson open behind the defense for a 34-yard touchdown pass to give Portal his second touchdown in 10 seconds and give the Panthers a 21-3 lead.
Robert Toombs responded with his own touchdown, cutting the lead to 21-10 at halftime.
While Portal’s explosive offense struggled to put together consistent drives in the third and early fourth quarters, the Crusaders were able to put a pair of touchdowns on the board and had a 23-21 lead with 8: 30 remaining in the match.
The Panthers took over on their own 35-yard line and after two plays they moved to their own 46. That’s when Coleman’s magic kicked in again.
He was pressured and was able to evade a few crossed defenders as he took off down the right touchline. He was able to find a seam and reduce the pitch, getting past the RTCA defense and able to get into the end zone just before being caught. Jose Sanchez’s fourth extra point of the night gave Portal a 28-23 lead.
Robert Toombs looked to respond and was able to close in on the midfield. On a first down, Mayson Lane was able to read the quarterback and pull off his pass, all but sealing the Panthers victory.
“Mayson did a great job getting back to his place in coverage and made a great play and almost got it back for a touchdown,” McEachin said. “He’s just a sophomore still learning to play for us. He had a lot of minutes tonight and made a huge play when it counted.”
Coleman finished the night with 152 yards rushing on 15 carries and 69 additional yards through the air, which accounts for all four touchdowns. Landon Ross added 45 rushing yards on 11 carries for the Panthers.
“We’re an explosive offense,” McEachin said. “We can score on one play or we can go a long way. The problem tonight for our attack is that we didn’t have much of the ball. They had the ball a lot more than us, which stops you from getting into a flow.
For nearly two hours, it looked like the game couldn’t be played. Thunderstorms rolled through the area, forcing players to the locker rooms and fans to their vehicles to await delays. At one point the teams were within a minute of the start before the lightning siren went off, again forcing the stadium to be evacuated.
“I was certain three times that we weren’t going to play tonight,” McEachin said. “We kept hanging on just long enough to be able to get him in.” He said they tried to entertain the team by putting on movies while they waited out the storm.
The Panthers travel to Pembroke on Friday to take on Bryan County as they attempt to extend their winning streak.