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Blue Devils back on top
Statesboro running back Quan Daniels (21) breaks away from the Lakeside defense during the Blue Devils' 28-21 win last season. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

Toe will meet leather to officially begin the football season for Statesboro High tonight as the Blue Devils travel to Lakeside, Evans for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.

Although this season’s realignment has taken the Panthers out of Statesboro’s region, the teams will continue their rivalry as they meet for the fourth time in as many seasons.

After losing to Lakeside in the state playoffs three seasons ago, the Devils took regular season decisions the past two seasons. Statesboro is hoping for a third straight win to get the 2012 campaign off to a good start.

To do so, the Devils will have to get contributions from some new faces. Seven new starters make up the offense while six more Devils will get their first start on defense. Regardless of the experience level on the field, Statesboro coach Steve Pennington is very optimistic about what he can expect out of his team.

"There is no question as to our abilities," said Pennington. "I trust that we have guys at all positions that can play well. It’s going to be about responding once the game starts. We have talent, but there’s always going to be a lot of nervous energy — especially in the first game of the season."

Statesboro will look to set the tone with its grinding wishbone attack.

Senior running back Quan Daniels is healthy and as explosive as ever. Sherrodric Rawls, Diquan Brunson and Jim Kopotic round out a backfield that can hurt teams by running the ball or by throwing crushing blocks. Junior quarterback Colin Chance will get his first career start and figures to be a duel threat with the Devils’ emerging option and passing game.

On the other side of the ball, Statesboro will try to slow down the high-flying Panther attack. Lakeside runs nearly every play out of the shotgun with three, four, and five receiver sets. The Panthers have also taken a liking to a no-huddle approach, quickly lining up receivers and backs in many configurations while defenses scramble to adjust.

With plenty of new faces on the Devil defense, communication and execution will be vital.

"Lakeside really covers the entire field with their spread," said Pennington. "It makes you have to play a sort of assignment defense. There is so much room between players that we have to concentrate on each guy beating his man individually and controlling his space."

2011 Region 2-AAAA Player of the Year Mark Weidenaar has graduated from his quarterback slot for the Panthers, but new starter Hunter Banks has looked sharp in the preseason.

The Panthers won’t hesitate to look downfield with their new quarterback, but will retain the balanced approach that took them to a state playoff berth last season.

"You see all of the receivers and think pass, but they can run the ball very well," said Pennington. "We’ve got three new guys on the defensive line. It’s going to be very important for us to do our jobs at the line of scrimmage and control the run."

If history is to be believed, tonight’s matchup should be entertaining.

Statesboro stormed back from a 21-point deficit to notch a 28-21 win last season and just barely hung on for a 26-24 win in 2010. In Lakeside’s playoff victory over the Devils, they managed a 16-0 shutout, but couldn’t put Statesboro away until the final minutes.

"I think that we’re two teams that know each other pretty well," said Pennington. "We’re also teams that are sound in the way that we do things. That makes for the close games that we’ve had. Whoever can execute and make the fewest mistakes is going to get that little edge that leads to victory."


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