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Blue Devils advance

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Blue Devils advance

Statesboro High linebacker Willie Johnson races off the field in celebration after the Blue Devils recovered a Tri Cities fumble with 2:27 left in the fourth quarter. The turnover helped set up the winning field goal by Caleb Brown.

  The outcome wasn’t clear until the final minute, but Statesboro will live on to fight another week.
    Caleb Brown kicked a 27-yard field goal with just seven seconds remaining to cap Statesboro’s 24-21 win over Tri-Cities in the opening round of the Georgia High School Association playoffs Friday night at Womack Field.
    The Blue Devils (9-2) scored on their opening drive to take a 7-0 lead, but quickly fell into a hole. The Bulldogs (7-4) built a 21-7 advantage at halftime, but the determined Devils scored 17 unanswered points to keep their season alive.
    A 10-yard touchdown run by Dequan Daniels tied the game with just 2:48 to play, and Yakeem Coleman dove on a fumble to set up the Devils’ winning score.
    Statesboro pounded the ball into the Bulldog red zone before calling on Brown – who already had two career game-winners to his credit - to put the finishing touch.
    “I wasn’t too nervous about it,” said Brown. “That’s what I’m on the field to do. I saw we got the ball back and I really wanted a chance to win it for us. We got a great snap and a great hold, so I just had to do my part.”
    The win sends Statesboro to the second round of the state playoffs for the first time since 2008.
    “It was great to see our team persevere like that,” said SHS coach Steve Pennington. “It took a lot of heart and courage to get this victory. We were able to overcome some adversity and find a way to win.”
    For much of the night, it didn’t look like that would be the case.
    Utilizing a balanced spread attack, Tri-Cities used an abundance of speed to keep the Statesboro defense on its heels.
    Quarterback Jonte Davis was able to pick apart the Devils, completing 14 of his 16 passing attempts, including a string of 11 straight.
    Even seemingly good plays by the Devil defense were turned against them.
    On the Bulldogs’ first possession, Davis backpedalled 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage, but managed to find Jarius Hollaman for a 3rd-and-14 conversion.
    Three plays later, Hollaman got behind the defense and hauled in a 42-yard touchdown pass to even up the game.
    Statesboro’s offense stalled for the rest of the half and was forced into two three-and-out possessions while the Bulldogs kept rolling.
    “We really didn’t do anything in the first half after our first possession,” said Pennington. “Luckily, we were able to turn things around.”
    Hollaman – who led the Bulldogs with five catches for 153 yards – struck another blow for Tri-Cities on its next possession. The speedy receiver raced downfield and came up with a jump ball from 28 yards out to put the Bulldogs on top.
    Davis ran in from 19 yards out late in the second quarter to give the Bulldogs what they thought was a comfortable lead.
    But the tide changed in the second half as Statesboro refused to go down without a fight. The Devil defense was able to bottle up the Bulldogs, holding Tri-Cities to just four plays in SHS territory over the final 24 minutes.
    “We needed our defense, and they came up big tonight,” said Pennington. “Our backs were against the wall at halftime, but we responded. We did a much better job of getting to the ball and tackling. That eliminated the big plays and got our offense back on the field.”
    Daniels pulled the Devils within 21-14 late in the third quarter with a 1-yard touchdown plunge. The sophomore running back totaled 103 yards, including a 35-yarder that set up the game-tying score.
    With the win, Statesboro advances to play Griffin – which defeated Lee County 41-13 – next Friday. The Devils are assured of at least one more home game and could play more depending on how the rest of the bracket plays out.   

    Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.

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