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SHS faces region battle of 6-0 teams

SHS faces region battle of 6-0 teams

SHS faces region battle of 6-0 teams


    It’s been a fun ride for the Statesboro Blue Devils so far, but things are about to get dead serious.
    The Devils have rolled to a 6-0 record and a No. 5 ranking in the latest Class AAAA rankings, but tonight’s game at Liberty County marks the opening night of sub-region play. With that, it’s the next three games that will determine if the Devils will have a shot at the state playoffs and where they will be seeded.
    The same story holds true for the Panthers (6-0) who are undefeated this late into the season for the first time in the program’s 21-year history. Liberty County had similar success last season, taking a 5-1 mark to Statesboro for a televised Thursday night game. The Devils claimed a 19-0 win in that matchup and the Panthers dropped their final two sub-region contests to miss out on even making an appearance in the Region 3-AAAA play-in round.
    “All games are important whether they’re region games or not,” SHS coach Steve Pennington said. “Of course, this is kind of like starting a new season. We feel grateful for six games that have prepared us for our sub-region. Now we need to go out there and execute what we know we need to do.”
    Fans are sure to pack the stands in Hinesville tonight, but they might have to battle coaches from some top college programs for prime seating.
    Statesboro standouts like offensive lineman John Underwood and linebacker Anthony Gore have garnered plenty of attention from recruiters, but the Panthers boast five-star recruit Raekwon McMillan at linebacker.
    McMillan is rated by ESPN as the top linebacker in the country, the second best recruit in all of Georgia, and the 14th best overall recruit in the nation. McMillan has already racked up 92 total tackles, 19 tackles for a loss, and scholarship offers from just about every elite university in the country.
    “There’s no doubting his talent,” Pennington said. “But what makes him really tough this year is his supporting cast. Last year, we could identify him and stay away. This year, Liberty has a bunch of other guys who will step up and make plays.”
    One of those newcomers is freshman defensive back Richard Lecounte, who has already pulled in five interceptions and forced three fumbles. Lecounte plays centerfield in the Panthers’ three-deep pass coverage schemes and figures to have a few run-ins with start Statesboro receiver Joe Corless (19 catches, 458 yards, 7 TD).
    Blue Devils quarterback Colin Chance will certainly have his plate full with trying to get his offense into the right play calls. Chance’s decision making — both with deep passes and in the Devils’ option attack — has keyed big plays throughout the season.
    That smart play will be vital as Statesboro tries to maintain drives while not running straight into the Panthers’ defensive playmakers.
    “There’s going to be star power all over the field,” Pennington said. “Liberty will even put (McMillan and Lecounte) in on offense. The winner of this game will be the team that can continue to execute like it has so far while minimizing what the opponent’s big playmakers are able to do.”
    For the winner of tonight’s matchup, a possible region title and No. 1 state playoff seed is still in play. For the loser, a 6-1 overall record will be little consolation as the final two games will be do-or-die situations.
    The weather has finally cooled down, but this sub-region is about to be red-hot.

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

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