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Late surge lifts Wayne over SHS

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Late surge lifts Wayne over SHS

    JESUP — In a game that shaped up to be a defensive struggle, it was the Statesboro defense that did most of the struggling.
    Wayne County (5-3-1, 3-0 Region 3-AAAA) scored 17 unanswered points to break a halftime tie and run away with a 37-20 victory over Statesboro (7-2, 2-1) Friday night.
    The Blue Devils had no answer for Yellow Jacket quarterback Malique Jackson who ran for 154 yards, passed for 113 more and accounted for a pair of touchdowns.
    “We just didn’t match up very well tonight,” SHS coach Steve Pennington said. “(Wayne County) has a lot of talented guys that can hurt you. I thought that we had some moments where we played well, but they were a little bit better.”
    With the win, Wayne County will host Burke County to decide the region title next week. Statesboro will host either Cross Creek or Academy of Richmond County in a region play-in game that will give the winner a spot in the state playoffs and send the loser home for the winter.
    Statesboro wasted no time in jumping on the scoreboard, driving 64 yards on just six plays on the game’s opening possession.
    Sherrodric Rawls picked up one big third down to keep the drive alive, and Quan Daniels bounced a draw play around the left side for a 31-yard touchdown to open the scoring.
    The Yellow Jackets quickly responded and drove downfield before the Blue Devil defense came up huge. Wayne County faced a third-and-1 and the Devil defense didn’t give an inch, forcing a turnover on downs.
    But Statesboro quickly handed it back as Colin Chance fumbled away the next snap and Wayne County recovered on the SHS 22. Two plays later, Jackson found Clayton Coatney for a 19-yard strike.
    “I don’t want to dwell on turnovers too much,” Pennington said. “Overall, our offense did some good things tonight. But going against a team that strong, you can’t afford to give them the ball deep in your own territory.”
    On the next Statesboro drive, the Yellow Jacket defense showed that it could make a stand of its own. Daniels took a direct snap 38 yards to the Wayne County 33 and Diquan Brunson carried for nine yards on the next play, but Wayne held tough on three straight plays to regain possession.
    Jackson quickly led the Jackets back downfield with 30 rushing yards and going two-for-three passing before Christian Mackey put his team in front. Mackey finished off the drive with two consecutive carries. Mackey’s second carry took it in from nine yards out and Aaron Palmer’s kick made it 14-7 Jackets early in the second quarter.
    Daniels lit a fire under the Devils as he returned the ensuing kickoff 47 yards to midfield. A 15-yard hookup from Chance to Juhwan Osborne drove Statesboro deep into Wayne territory, and Daniels finished things off with a nine-yard scoring run.
    Jordan Aubrey’s point after knotted the game back up at 14-14 with 9:00 to go in the second quarter, and both offenses finally slowed down as the teams stayed deadlocked at halftime.
    On the second play of the third quarter, Jackson turned the corner on the right side for 66 yards to the SHS 7-yard line. Chris Cohen ran the next snap down to the 1 and finished the job on the next play for a 21-14 Wayne County lead just 81 seconds into the second half.
    The Yellow Jackets forced a three-and-out on the Devils’ first possession of the half, and Wayne County was off to the races.
    Hux Riddle gave the Jackets a 24-14 lead with a 20-yard field goal and on the next SHS drive, Taylor Heflin intercepted Chance and returned the ball to the Statesboro 9. Jackson coasted into the end zone on the next play for a 31-14 advantage.
    “We came out in the second half and were kind of in la-la land,” Pennington said. “I just don’t think that we were quite prepared, and Wayne County certainly took advantage of that. That’s something that we can’t allow to happen moving forward.”
    Chance found Daniels for a 38-yard touchdown run to pull Statesboro within 31-20 after three quarters, but it was too little, too late.
    Statesboro took over possession with a chance to chip into the lead early in the fourth quarter, but gained just one yard and punted away.
    Wayne County slowly ate up yardage and clock, culminating with another one-yard Cohen scoring run.

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

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