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Blue Devils open playoffs at Cairo

(3) Statesboro (9-1) at (2) Cairo (7-3)
7:30 p.m., 102.9 FM

    If the town feels a little less crowded today, it’s likely because of a few hundred Statesboro High fans making their way across the state as the Blue Devils take on Cairo in the first round of the Class AAAA state playoffs.
    Statesboro finished the regular season with an impressive 9-1 mark and currently sits at eighth in the state poll, but the quirky nature of Region 3-AAAA left the Devils as a No. 3 seed in the postseason. The lower seed means that Statesboro will head to No. 2 Cairo (7-3) despite having the better record and will likely keep the Devils on the road for as long as their playoff run lasts.
    “It’s a long trip, but we’re not too worried about it,” SHS coach Steve Pennington said. “Honestly, I think that it can be good for a team. You get away from phones and other distractions. We’ll have some time for reflection and fellowship. That should get us focused.”
    Of course, the Devils still have a tough team to contend with once they’re done with the bus ride.
    The Syrupmakers stumbled out of the gate to a 2-3 start, but have won their last five contests. Cairo is averaging over 33 points per game during its current streak and is looking to make a statement after failing to win its region for just the second time since 2006.
    Normally, a 7-3 record would seem silly to be mad over, but that’s the standard that has been set for the three-time state champion Syrupmakers. The Devils – owners of five state titles – can appreciate the annual expectations.
    “Cairo is one heck of a program,” Pennington said. “We’ve had our good runs here at Statesboro, and it seems like every time we’ve been to the (Georgia) Dome, Cairo has been hanging around as well.”
    With such strong histories, perhaps it’s fitting that Cairo and Statesboro field similar types of teams.
    Both schools pride themselves on tough, grinding offenses that also have the ability to break out for big plays.
    The Devils’ depth at running back allows them to stay strong late into games while Colin Chance has recorded a touchdown pass in all but two of Statesboro’s games this season.
    Cairo will counter with the hard running of Jeremiah Hill and Bryan Soles. The Syrupmakers can also stretch the field as Pennington called Cairo receiver Dontavious Gurley one of the fastest players his team will face all season.
    “It’s going to take a great effort from our defense to slow down Cairo,” Pennington said. “At the same time, we can’t press too hard and let anyone behind us.
    “Offensively, we’re going to have to be patient. Cairo’s defense is extremely aggressive. We just need to concentrate on eliminating negative yardage plays and take whatever we can get.”
    No matter which team wins, one impressive streak is sure to continue.
    For the 11th consecutive year, one of these two schools will advance to at least the second round of the playoffs.
    “I think that fans are going to see two great programs going at it,” Pennington said. “That should make for a great game.”

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