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Blue Devils can't overcome tough second quarter
Screven County running back Tyquan Johnson, left, squirm into the enzone despite the efforts of Statesboro High defender Sage Reese during the third quarter Friday.

Statesboro couldn’t overcome a 21-0 second quarter run by Screven County Friday night in a 35-21 loss.

“We learned a lot about ourselves tonight,” said Statesboro head coach Steve Pennington. “Even in defeat our players continue to learn.”

Statesboro started off the game better than they’d started any drive all season. After a three-and-out to start the game, a roughing the punter penalty on Screven gave new life to the Statesboro opening drive -- allowing for a nine-yard run by quarterback Davis Wiggins on the following third down and a 25-yard catch and run from Wiggins to running back Tyler Gordon.

That sequence of plays set up Statesboro inside the Screven 15, which allowed running back Tupac Lanier to punch in the opening touchdown on a second-and-goal from the five. The 10-play, 69-yard drive was the prettiest drive of the young season for Statesboro as it appeared the offense had finally found the explosiveness it so desperately seeked.

Alas, Screven found even better success on their opening drive and never stopped. The opening drive saw quarterback Armani Bunbury carry the Gamecocks down the field with relative ease, as he would gobble up 50 yards on just four rushes in an 80 yard drive -- capped off by a 24-yard touchdown run by the junior quarterback.

After converting three first downs on their opening drive, Statesboro would only get two more first downs the entire half. After a 10-play opening drive where the offense averaged 6.9 yards per play, the Blue Devil’s would only average 0.5 yards a play for their next 20. As the offense sputtered through the first half, Screven’s offense ran like an out-of-control locomotive.

“There was a big lack of focus,” said linebacker Chris Hill. “We were just dead in the second quarter.”

Screven would break seven runs of 10-plus yards in the first half, including a 26-yard touchdown run from fullback CJ Wright following a turnover-on-downs by Statesboro and a 68-yard touchdown run by Kim Hunter following another Statesboro three-and-out.

With the score 21-7, the real backbreaker came at the very end of the half during a 48-yard field goal attempt by Statesboro. As time expired, Screven pushed through the middle of the line and blocked the kick. The ball then rattled around behind the Screven defense, allowing safety Nick Clifton to scoop up the ball and skirt 75 yards downfield to put Screven up 28-7 at halftime.

“Things we really got away from us in that second quarter,” Pennington said. “We were hurting physically and emotionally. We came to a point where we were able to rally around each other.”

To add insult to injury -- literally -- Wiggins went out of the game late in the second quarter with an apparent shoulder injury. The junior will be x-rayed Monday to find out the full extent of the injury, and it forced Statesboro to run a wildcat offense for the rest of the game.

“We have it set up so all the running backs can play any position,” said running back Malik Powell. “We weren’t expecting Davis to get hurt but we were ready when it happened.”

Running the offense for Statesboro was Lanier, who through the second half brought life back into the Statesboro offense. The first drive of the second half saw Screven backed up after a hands-to-the-face call on a fourth down conversion attempt. On the punt, defensive end David King came screaming off the edge to get two hands on the kick for Statesboro, forcing the ball to bounce back out-of-bounds to the Screven 14.

Two plays later, Lanier ran an option fake and easily got to the edge to cut the deficit back to 14 with 8:11 left in the third quarter. The following drive saw Statesboro stuff Wright on a fake punt on fourth-and-nine, making it seem as if momentum had turned back in the Blue Devil’s favor.

But following an 11-yard run on the next drive, Lanier would run into the teeth of the Screven defense and cough up the ball in Gamecock territory -- allowing Screven to take right back over and deflate any momentum the Blue Devil’s had.

The two sides would trade faulty drives going into the fourth quarter, where on their first drive of the quarter Screven would engineer a nine-play, 42 yard drive that was finished by a 14-yard pass from Bunbury to wide receiver Tyquan Johnson on 4th and 8 to put the Gamecocks up 35-14.

Statesboro would manage one final gasp of air at the end of the game with an 11-play, 73-yard drive capped off by a 1-yard run on 4th and goal by Zach Pendegrass with 1:50 left -- but the damage had been done, and Statesboro was just too far out to mount a comeback.

“Since I’ve been in high school Statesboro has always been a second half team,” Powell said. “We’ve got to do something to change that now.”

To the Blue Devil’s credit, they held Screven’s offense down in the second half after letting it scorch the field earlier in the game. The Gamecocks only averaged 3.7 yards per play in the second half, while Statesboro averaged 5.8 running the “WildPac” -- the best they’ve done in any half all season.

“We had a really nice pep talk at halftime,” Hill said. “We can take momentum from the second half this and use it to take the next step next week.”

Statesboro (0-3) will go back to the friendly confines of Womack Field next Friday when they host Effingham County at 7:30 p.m.