WHITE HOUSE – One year ago, White House had just accomplished a feat never before seen in its long rivalry with the Portland Panthers in football.
The Blue Devils were on top of the series history for the first time, but heading to Portland the eventual District 9-AA champions suffered a surprising 28-7 loss on the Panthers home field. Now, the rivalry is tied at 22-22 and the game moves to White House’s Dewey H. Whitson Stadium Friday night.
The game kicks off at 7:30 p.m. as the season opener for White House. Portland enters the contest 0-1 after dropping a week zero heart-breaker to Westmoreland.
“Our focus right now is simple,” said White House head coach Jeff Porter, entering his 27th season as one of the top winning coaches in the state of Tennessee. “We have to try and improve. We have to get better every single day on the practice field and take care of ourselves.”
Portland comes into the game having rushed 40 times for 148 yards in the opening week. Bryant Dowlen carried 23 times for 139 yards, but the Panthers struggled for further offense. Austin Griggs was 3-of-6 passing for 41 yards and Portland ended the game scoreless with 203 total yards.
For White House, answering questions about the running game may be the biggest obstacle heading into the opener. A two-time district player of the year in tailback Grant Wicker is gone, along with five senior starting offensive linemen to graduation. The Devils turn to senior Bailey Burns, sophomore Trey Hyde, and a stable of young backs looking to make a splash. One of those is sophomore Josh Flynn who scored the lone touchdown in the jamboree versus Fairview.
Senior quarterback Ryan Pool is among three returning starters on offense, along with junior split end Josh Mullins and senior tight end Wesley James. Senior offensive tackle Wyatt Bailey and classmate Corey Cantrell bring the most experience to a brand new offensive line.
“We have been practicing a long time,” Porter explained. “It’s time for us to get on the field and play. Our focus is getting prepared for Friday night.”
Defensively, White House will turn to senior linebacker Taylor Wood to anchor the middle of the field. He was the team’s leading tackler, and James moves to a “stud” defensive back position after starting at end the past two season. Burns is a linebacker, and Mullins is in the secondary as a corner. With Bailey, Cantrell and senior Lane Spivey among those up front, WHHS is going to have to play it close and keep the opponent off the scoreboard.
For Portland, one key area of improvement is mistakes and yellow flags. The Panthers lost 72 yards on nine penalties in week zero, but the most critical against Westmoreland may have ultimately decided the game.
With just over six minutes left in a scoreless affair, Westmoreland entered the Portland red zone. But when Justice Graves attempted his next pass, Portland defensive back Devonta House picked it off and raced 87 yards for the go-ahead score.
Except, a penalty flag erased it at their own 27. The Portland defense still kept Westmoreland under 240 total yards for the game. Graves passed for 136 and later the Eagles scored the winning touchdown with 90 seconds left in the contest.
“The game Friday night between Portland and Westmoreland was just a great football game to watch between two great teams,” Porter said. “This will be an exciting game Friday for the fans and we know that they everyone will be ready for a great atmosphere for high school football.”