It’s hard to go through the history of a traditionally winning program and point to the biggest upsets in school history, but Friday night’s 29-19 win over Veterans has to be among the biggest in Statesboro’s storied run. If there had been a Vegas line on the game, it would have favored the 3-0 Warhawks by about 14-18 points. The Blue Devils won the game by 10 points and were propelled by a suffocating defense that held a Warhawk team that was averaging over 35 points per game to only one touchdown.
“For the first time in a long, long time the Statesboro Blue Devils hunkered down in the fourth quarter, when we were down and came back and pulled off a win,” said Statesboro coach Jeff Kaiser. “That is what this community was accustomed to for a long time.”
The Blue Devils trailed 19-7 in the fourth quarter and needed a big play, and the Statesboro defense came through. Brendan Jackson leveled Veterans quarterback Blake Ethridge, and Dake Williams pounced on the ball at the Veterans 42 yard line.
“Right before that play I told Dake Williams that I needed the ball back,” Kaiser said. “He delivered. The defense played outstanding all game long.”
The offense - which had been held to just one first down the entire first half - responded. Facing 4th-and-5 from the 41-yard line, quarterback Drake Horton threw a perfect pass to a streaking Will Yawn, who hauled it in at the 10 and went the rest of the way for the touchdown. The extra point was good and Statesboro cut the lead to 19-14.
The defense stepped up again, forcing Veterans to punt. And once again the offense responded. Jaylin Roberson capped another scoring drive with a 6-yard touchdown run and with 4:40 left in the game the Blue Devils led 20-19. Statesboro elected to go for a two-point conversion to extend the lead to three and Horton fired a strike to Yawn across the middle to make it 22-19.
It was only fitting that the final points of the game came from the Statesboro defense. Veterans quarterback Blake Ethridge was deep in his own territory and threw a pass down the sideline that was tipped right into the hands of Blue Devil safety Koriaun Reese, who sprinted down the sidelines 22 yards into the end zone, as the crowd erupted, and the Blue Devils won 29-19.
“I’m just so proud for these kids,” Kaiser said. “These seniors took a big step forward last year as juniors. We lost some key folks, and didn’t know how things would turn out, but they took a big step forward tonight.”
Statesboro took a 7-0 lead in the first half as Drake Horton hit receiver Davardrian Lipsey across the middle. The ball was tipped and Lipsey broke free of a couple of tackles and went 90 yards for the touchdown. The extra point by Cody Parker was good and Statesboro led 7-0.
Poor field position hindered the Statesboro offense throughout the first half, as they started every drive deep in their own territory, thanks in large part to the punting of Daniel Gibbs who pinned the Blue Devils inside the 11 yard line on three different occasions. The Blue Devils managed just one first down the entire half, but the defense kept them in the game.
The Warhawks took advantage of a short field and went 40 yards on a six-play drive, capped by an 8-yard touchdown run by Lebron Fields to tie the game at 7-7 with 9:55 left in the second quarter.
Pinned at the one after another great punt by Gibbs, Aundrell Grace was stopped in the end zone for a safety, and Veterans took a 9-7 lead with 5:40 left in the second.
Gibbs continued to show his kicking prowess late in the first half as he boomed a 54-yard field goal with 2:01 left to give the Warhawks a 12-7 lead, which they carried into the half.
The Statesboro offense started the second half pinned once again at their own 1-yard line. This time around, facing third and long, quarterback Drake Horton was being dragged down and threw the ball up while going down, right into the hands of the Warhawks Jalen Banks, who went 10 yards for the score to give Veterans a 19-7 lead.
The Blue Devils outscored the Warhawks 22-0 the rest of the way for the improbable comeback victory.
Statesboro outgained Veterans on the night and the Blue Devil defense created three turnovers in the game while the Statesboro offense only turned the ball over twice.
“It’s a great win for our program, and a great win for our kids,” Kaiser said. “Hate to sound like a grumpy old coach, but we’re going to enjoy this one tonight, and Sunday we are coming back to work to get ready for the next one.”
Statesboro improves to 2-0 on the season. Up next the Blue Devils travel to Effingham County next Friday for a 7:30 kickoff.