The Statesboro Blue Devils continue to have their struggles on the field, which are compounded by struggles off the field. Statesboro was playing Friday night’s game against Appling County with 22 players out due to COVID-19 related issues. Many of those players were offensive linemen, and Friday the Pirates dominated the line of scrimmage as they ran past the Blue Devils 34-7.
Statesboro was within striking distance in their first two losses, but Friday night Appling dominated Statesboro from the opening kick-off on. The Blue Devils managed only one first down the entire first half. Statesboro also had the ball inside the Pirate 10-yard on two different occasions, and walked away with no points. Both times passes were dropped in the end zone.
“We were outmanned tonight on the offensive and defensive line and it showed,” said Statesboro Coach David NeSmith. “We had some opportunities tonight, but we didn’t take advantage of them. We have to get better.”
The Pirates opened the scoring on a 31-yard field goal by Alex Garcia to take a quick 3-0 lead. On the ensuing kick-off Statesboro carried over their special teams issues from last week, as they fumbled the kick-off and Appling took over at the 17-yard line. Fullback Justice Huntley finished the scoring drive with a 2-yard run for a 10-0 lead.
The Statesboro offense went three-and-out, and the Pirates cashed in after a big 46-yard run by Sharode Roberts. Quarterback Jeremiah Holmes then capped the drive with a 6-yard touchdown run for a 17-0 lead.
Statesboro showed some signs of life as Jaylin Mikell returned the kick-off 52-yards to the Appling 26. On the very next play Aundrell Grace went 26-yards for the score to cut the lead to 17-7 with 1:37 left in the first quarter.
The Blue Devil defense stopped Appling on their next drive as Hunter Saussy intercepted Holmes at the Blue Devil 20. The Statesboro offense was unable to take advantage, and the Pirates went on an 8-play 4;03 drive capped off by another 3-yard touchdown run by Huntley to make it 24-7.
It looked like that would be the way the half ended, but for the second straight game the Blue Devils ran into trouble in the final seconds of the half. Quarterback Ames Rackleff was hit on his blindside by Darris Smith, who jarred the ball loose. Dawson Griffis scooped it up and went 33-yards for the touchdown to put Appling up 31-7.
It looked like the Blue Devils would be able to answer even with no time left on the clock. Appling was whistled for a personal foul on the ensuing kick-off, and then received another personal foul on the next play to give Statesboro the ball on the 10-yard line. Rackleff’s pass hit James Flagg in the chest in the end-zone, but he was unable to bring it in, and the score remained 31-7 at the half.
The only score in the second half came on a field goal by Garcia on the Pirates opening drive of the second half. Statesboro had the ball at the Appling 6-yard line after a 52 yard run by Mikell, but a couple running plays went for losses, and then on fourth down another pass was dropped in the end-zone to end the drive.
“We dropped a couple passes that should have been scores, and we had another turnover on special teams that led to a score,” said NeSmith. “We didn’t block too well up front, and we didn’t execute. They were in our face all night, which sure didn’t help our passing game.”
“Appling County is a great football team,” said NeSmith. “I feel like our team can be competitive once we get our players back, and hopefully we can make a run at this thing.”
In their previous two losses the Blue Devils were missing anywhere from 8-12 players, but Friday that number was a lot higher. Of the 22 players missing about 13 of them played significant time, and seven were starters.
While every school has to deal with the possibility of missing players, it appears many school districts are less strict than Bulloch County. In other counties if a student is wearing a mask in class and another student tests positive for COVID-19 they are allowed to continue to come to school. In Bulloch County in that same situation, regardless of wearing a mask or not, all the students in the class are in quarantine for 14 days.
“It’s been difficult as every day you don’t know who is going to be in, and who will be out,” said NeSmith. “It doesn’t seem like our opponents have as many players as we do out. Maybe we have just been hit hard early, and it will get other teams later in the season. The whole situation has taken a toll mentally as well as physically.”
Up next for the Blue Devils is a trip to Liberty County on Oct. 9 for a 7:30 p.m. start.