It was all Indians early, but Portland rallied on Friday night to open play in region 5-4A with a 35-21 win.
Montgomery Central (2-1, 0-1) took an early lead 7-0 on a 6-yard Michel Payton touchdown carry to cap their opening drive.
On the ensuing drive, Panther quarterback Caleb Mandrell was intercepted by Timmy Campbell, setting up the Indians with the ball at the 29-yard line. On the next play, Logan Sykes connected with Payton to give the Indians an early 14-0 lead.
“Our kids settled down,” Portland coach Greg Cavanah said. “We thought it might snowball and it didn’t. Our kids got control of themselves and the ball game.
“They’ve got just as good of athletes as we do and they line it up and run it right at you and they’re a load. Our kids just got better and better because the energy came back.”
Portland (2-1, 1-0) got on the board early in the second quarter as Mandrell connected with Jovie Lugo from three yards away to get things to 14-7. Mandrell tied it just two minutes later with a 1-yard run.
The Panthers took their first lead of the night at the end of the first half as Mandrell found Darius Bell in the end zone to go up 21-14 at the half.
Montgomery Central tied things back up to start the second half with a 53-yard run by Payten, but it wouldn’t stand long as Mandrell and Bell connected again, this time on a 63-yard score, to put the Panthers up 28-21. Mandrell finished the night six of 12 passing for 156 yards and two touchdowns.
Mandrell found the end zone one more time to cap a 62-yard drive to put Portland up 35-21 in the third quarter. The Indians threatened late in the game, but Braxton Cole intercepted a Sykes pass to seal the victory for the Panthers.
The Panthers finished the night with 244 yards on the ground, led by Mandrell with 95 and Devyn Fuqua with 84.
“We found that (the running game) after we caught up with them,” Cavanah said. “If we can run the ball, we’re going to run the ball.”
In a deep region, Cavanah noted that each region game is big and the first win can go a long way.
“It’s huge and we’ve got Greenbrier next week so we’ve got no time off. It’s huge for the kids. In a seven team region, every game is huge.”
As the Panthers continue region play on the road at Greenbrier next week, Montgomery Central will travel to Clarksville Northeast for a non-region contest.