The Region 2-AAAA champion will be decided tonight as Ware County comes to Womack Field to take on Statesboro in a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.
The Blue Devils (9-0) and the Gators (8-1) have been highly regarded and ranked in the state polls all season — currently sitting at fourth and fifth, respectively. Tonight’s winner will enter the state playoffs with the higher ranking and will also take the region’s No. 1 seed.
Other competitors in the region were little match for either of these teams. Both Statesboro and Ware swept through their sub-region games without a loss and the Devils’ 17-14 win over Liberty County back on September 16 marked the only region game involving Statesboro or Ware to be decided by less than a touchdown.
The Devils have won their last four games by an average of 28.75 points, but things figure to be much closer tonight.
“The fact of the matter is that we’re facing a very, very talented team,” said Statesboro coach Steve Pennington. “That old saying of saving the best for last certainly holds true in this case. Ware County poses a huge obstacle for us.”
History seems to be on the Devils’ side. Statesboro is 8-3-1 overall against Ware, including wins in each of the last two meetings between the schools.
Of course, each meeting wipes the slate clean, and this is hardly the same Ware squad that Statesboro defeated 3-0 back in 2009.
The Gators have often made headlines with their punishing defenses, only to come up short on the offensive side. This season, the defense has remained stingy while the offense is torching opponents, averaging 36 points per game.
“Ware is about as veteran as a high school team can be,” said Pennington. “They return a bunch of guys from last season, and many of their guys have been starting since they were sophomores. They have a ton of experience and they’ve played in big games before.”
Adding to the problems that Ware presents is the complexity of its offense. Pennington has spent much of this week starting at 11 pages filled with all of the different looks that the Gators have shown this season.
“They do so many things,” said Pennington. “Plus, they’re just a very big, powerful team. We’ve got to be in the right position and make the right reads in order to be successful.”
One of the keys to slowing down the Gator attack is to keep it off the field.
Much like last week’s game against high-octane Greenbrier, the Devils will turn to their power running game to chew up clock and wear down the defense.
All-State running back Quan Daniels is still slowed by a high ankle sprain, but Michael Summers has been a workhorse for Statesboro with Sherrodric Rawls and Willie Johnson getting quality carries along the way.
“It’s no secret that we want to shorten the game,” said Pennington. “But we have to remain patient. Of course we want to go out there, play well, and score points. That’s easy to say, but there’s going to be a very good team getting in our way.
“We preach consistency and execution on both sides of the football. I expect a very tough game — one that’s going to take a great effort to win.”
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.