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Blue Devils look to build momentum at Bradwell

Statesboro (1-5, 1-3) at Bradwell Institute (0-6, 0-4)
7:30 p.m., 102.9 FM

Game Plan
    THINK HAPPY THOUGHTS: Statesboro may be in a down year, but the fire is still there. The Devils played as if the postseason was on the line in turning back a late pair of Richmond Hill drives to preserve their lead last week. That sort of inspired play will be needed again if Statesboro wants to add to its win total.
    FOOT ON THE GAS: The Blue Devil offense sparked to life in the first half last week, but  was unable to do much as the game wore on. Statesboro has shown the ability to grind out yards and has also gotten big plays from both the running and passing game. What the Devils haven’t shown is the ability to make that offense last for four full quarters.
    YOUTH MOVEMENT: Graduation from last year’s squad and a slew of injuries have made the Devils razor-thin at plenty of positions. Underclassmen have been asked to do much more than is typically seen at Statesboro. That recipe has produced plenty of mistakes, but is also setting the foundation for a group that has plenty of time to grow and improve.

    After nearly two months of struggling, Statesboro broke into the win column last week with a 14-13 victory over Richmond Hill.
    This has been far from an ideal season for the Blue Devils (1-5, 1-3 Region 3-AAAAA), but they can take another step towards normalcy if they can pull out a road win at Bradwell Institute tonight in Hinesville.
    “Last week wasn’t easy, but it was good for us,” SHS coach Steve Pennington said. “I think it showed our guys what we need to do to succeed. It’s going to take every ounce of what we’ve got to win ballgames. That’s a lot easier to understand once we’ve been through a game like last week.”
    The Devils were benefitted by the return of Austin Kleinlein under center and got solid efforts all around from the offense as they built an early lead. From there, the defense took control, forcing three turnovers and withstanding a comeback attempt.
    Another strong start would be great for Statesboro as they’ll try to pounce on a winless Tiger squad that has had its own share of issues this season.
    Bradwell (0-6, 0-4) has been consistent so far this season — but not in a good way.
    The Tigers have been held to single digits in four of their six contests. Defensively, they have allowed 28 points or more in all but one game.
    But it’s certain that the Tigers will be ready for whatever the Devils throw at them. After all, Bradwell is coached by former SHS assistant Greg Hill and fellow former Devil David NeSmith is also on staff.
    In his first season with the Tigers, Hill has implemented a Wing-T option that has some big differences from the Statesboro wishbone attack where he coached running backs under Pennington.
    The Devils defended Richmond Hill’s run-heavy offense with plenty of success and have thrown in some new schemes to account for the different looks that the Tigers will provide.
    And then there’s the fact that the opposing coaches are quite familiar with what Pennington and the Devils might try.
    “It’s always a strange feeling going against guys you’ve coached with,” Pennington said. “Of course you want to win, but you also want to see them succeed. We’ll try to win this one like any other game, but there’s certainly that mutual respect for them.”
    For Bradwell, 2014 is all about settling into a new coaching staff and building for the future.
    Statesboro also has plenty of young starters who are getting on-the-job training, but that notch in the region’s win column also keeps them mathematically alive for a playoff spot.
    It will take a lot more winning — and probably some outside help — but Statesboro is still in the picture, giving them plenty to strive for after finally getting that first victory out of the way.

    Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-4908.