The Statesboro Blue Devils honored their 2005 state championship team prior to Friday’s game against Effingham County. That team, and most Blue Devil teams since then, have relied on their defense to pull them through. Friday night it was the offense who helped bail out a struggling defense, as the Blue Devils beat the Rebels in a 38-36 shootout, and clinched a spot in the state playoffs in the process.
The Blue Devil defense did have to make a couple of plays to secure the victory. After a 25-yard pass from Garcia to Keon Wallace cut the Blue Devil's lead to 35-33 with 2:44 left in the game, the Rebels successfully executed an onside kick. They would get to the Statesboro 32-yard line, but the Blue Devil defense was able to hold them from there, and a Garcia incomplete pass on fourth and 10 ended their hopes.
“What a great win for our football team, I am so proud,” said Statesboro Coach Jeff Kaiser. “We faced adversity once again and we came out on top. I’m just proud of our kids as they fought their butts off.”
The Rebels were playing with a lot of emotion Friday as head coach Buddy Holder broke the news to them on Wednesday that he would be stepping down as head coach at the end of this season.
“I’ve known Coach Holder a long time and he is a great football coach,” said Kaiser. “He’s going to move on and be able to spend more time with his family. I love him, and I love those guys over there. They really know how to coach. Their kids know how to play, and more importantly they know how to act.”
The Rebels came into the game with a pretty balanced offensive attack, but Friday night they threw an air-assault at the Blue Devils. Quarterback Zach Garcia was 26 for 42 through the air for 350 yards and four touchdowns. He also had a 38-yard rushing touchdown.
“I knew Garcia could was a great thrower,” said Kaiser. “They have some athletes on the perimeter. We made three different adjustments, and none of them really worked, until right there at the end.
The Blue Devils rushed for the exact same number of yards the Rebels passed for, going for 350 on the ground. For the second straight game the Blue Devils had three different backs go over 100 yards. Ames Rackleff led the way with 115 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while Aundrell Grace came through with 113 yards rushing and two scores as well. Jaylin Mikell added 108 yards and one touchdown.
“They were physical in the box defensively, and well coached,” said Kaiser. “Our offensive line did a good job once again opening holes, and our backs continue to improve and run hard. I feel like our kids on offense are really maturing.”
The Blue Devils fell behind 7-0 after a 38-yard touchdown run by Garcia, but came back to tie the game early in the second quarter 7-7 on a 3-yard touchdown run by Grace. The Rebels came back to make it 13-7 on a 57-yard touchdown pass from Garcia to Garrison Kline. Statesboro responded with a 3-yard Rackleff touchdown to take a 14-13 halftime lead. They would never trail again.
Statesboro extended their lead to 21-13 in the third quarter on a 15-yard Rackleff touchdown. The Rebels cut the lead to 21-19 on an 11-yard scoring strike from Garcia to Wallace, then things got a little crazy as the two teams scored three touchdowns in the span of 31 seconds.
On the Blue Devils first play from scrimmage Mikell took off up the middle for a 67-yard touchdown to make it 28-19. On the Rebels first possession after the Statesboro score Garcia hit Wallace streaking down the far sidelines for a 70-yard touchdown as the horn blew cutting the lead to 28-26.
Grace added a 1-yard plunge with 6:15 to go in the game, and the Rebels answered with another Garcia to Wallace touchdown to cut it to 38-36.
The win improves the Blue Devils overall record to 4-5 and they are now 3-2 in region play. Next up they close out the season against Glynn Academy with the third seed in the state playoffs lying in the balance.
“At Statesboro High getting to game 11 should be an afterthought, Said Kaiser. “We are back again and just need to keep getting better. We have a chance to be the third seed and maybe beat the region champion. It’s what high school football is all about.”