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Injuries slow Blue Devils in early playoff exit
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    BAINBRIDGE — Bainbridge scored 28 unanswered points and rode a dominant second half effort to beat Statesboro 28-14 Friday at Centennial Field in the first round of the GHSA Class AAAA playoffs.
    The nail in the coffin was a 12-play, 80-yard drive of almost six minutes in the fourth quarter, capped off a by a Nick Williams 1-yard run to put BHS up 14 and out of reach of the Blue Devils.
    Statesboro punched BHS in the mouth to start the game, scoring twice to jump out to a 14-0 lead. But the Bearcats (8-3) stayed patient, and when quarterback Luke Connell (broken collarbone), running back Patrick Jenkins (ankle) and lineman A.J. Sampson (head) were all sidelined in the second half, BHS smelled blood, and never looked back.
    “We played better in the second half, that’s for sure,” said BHS coach Ricky Woods. “They got a few key players hurt, too, and that hurt them a little bit. We sort of capitalized on that.”
    Bainbridge tied the game with 3:07 left to go in the third quarter on a 5-yard run by Rashard Russell. The elusive back for BHS scatter-bugged through the SHS defense all night for a game-high 97 yards and two scores.
    The Bearcats took their first lead early in the fourth on a 4-yard scamper by Russell. With Connell out, and backup Aaron Cone forced into action, Bainbridge stacked the box and dared the Devils to throw. Statesboro managed just nine yards of net total offense and one first down the rest of the game.    
    “Any time you lose players it adds more pressure to other people,” said SHS coach Steve Pennington. “That may have been the case tonight. It put us in a position where we may have thought we had to do more than we were capable of doing.”
    Both Connell and Sampson were injured in a three-play span of the third quarter. On a 3rd-and-8, Connell rolled to his right and was hit during an incomplete pass play. His right collar-bone snapped and the junior sat the rest of the game. Sampson, a senior, was knocked numb and wouldn’t return either.
    The Blue Devils got the ball with 9:19 left trailing by seven, but went three-and-out when a halfback pass failed on third down. The Cats took the ball the other way on the game-sealing drive.
    “We just played better defense,” said Woods, in his first year at BHS. “We just played a lot better defense with a lot more intensity.”
    The Blue Devils opened the game with two Nic Lanier touchdown runs. The first came from 10 yards out when Lanier ran to his left, was spun back to his right by a facemask, then darted into the end zone to put SHS up 7-0.
    Lanier next capped a 16-play drive of 88 yards in a span of 6:58 with a dive straight up the gut. Statesboro was in total control after a quarter and a half up 14.
    But Bainbridge responded on the ensuing drive when Woods put defensive back Ramadon Jimoh-osi at quarterback. The wrinkle worked, as Pennington admitted after the game that the Devils hadn’t seen the speedster behind center on tape. Woods admitted it was a new wrinkle the Bearcats had installed this week during practice.
    Jimoh-osi put BHS on the board with a 15-yard run out of the shotgun formation in which he weaved his way in and out of tackles to reach the goal line with 3:48 to go in the first half.
    It was the big spark the No. 2 seed out of Region 1-AAAA needed.
    “In the second half they became more patient,” said Pennington. “And they really played a more physical ball game and controlled our line of scrimmage.”
    It’s the second year in a row Statesboro (7-4) has been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. Bainbridge moves on to face undefeated Fayette Couny next week in Fayetteville.

    Chad Bishop can be reached at (912) 489-9408.