Whether it’s the first game of the season or the last game, things always seem to be business as usual for the Statesboro Blue Devils.
The Devils (1-0, No. 5 Class AAAA) faced a road game and a tough opponent in Lakeside, Evans last week, but looked like the well-oiled machine that they have been for the last few years. Just like the SHS blueprints call for, a relentless ground game controlled the clock and found the end zone multiple times while the defense forced the opponent out of its comfort zone and made big plays to pull away.
Even with a total of 13 new starters on both sides of the ball, the Devils hardly missed a beat. Once Statesboro got settled in and gained a lead, there was little doubt that Lakeside’s night would end like so many others who have succumbed to SHS lately.
Offense on top of things
A changing of the guard at the quarterback position is usually enough to have fans concerned early in the season, but Colin Chance looked like a seasoned veteran as he took over the Devils’ attack. Chance was just 2-for-5 through the air, but he racked up 57 rushing yards and his light passing load was a result of the Devils’ success on the ground rather than any doubts of his ability to throw.
"Colin did the things that we needed him to do," said SHS coach Steve Pennington. "He looked like a leader that was ready to take control of the offense. There are always things that can be improved on, but we’ll look to do that as we progress through the season."
Senior running back Quan Daniels is nowhere near a new face, but he had a second coming out party Friday night.
The 2011 season saw Daniels hobbled by an ankle injury for most of the year. He continued to put up solid numbers, but couldn’t find the explosiveness that made him an All-State selection in 2010. Daniels looked to be as healthy as ever against Lakeside, scoring the first three SHS touchdowns and topping the 100 yard mark.
Young D-line emerges
Lex Womack returns to his defensive end position this season, but he is the only returning starter from last year. With the members of this season’s line a bit shorter and smaller than in years past, there were some concerns as to how they would adjust.
Lakeside seemingly exposed the line early on as they spread out the Devil defense and ran right at the defensive front. Statesboro yielded some ground early, but quickly figured out a plan of attack and silenced the Panther offense for much of the final three quarters.
"We did a good job of recognizing what was going on and what we needed to do to stop (Lakeside)," said Pennington. "Once we were able to get some stops and keep them from sustaining drives, we got them out of their rhythm."
The defensive line started with small steps, clogging running lanes in the middle. As the game wore on, the front four was consistently chasing down outside runs and sacked Lakeside quarterback Hunter Banks three times.
More big plays from secondary
Throughout 2011, Statesboro’s defensive secondary made a habit out of coming up with momentum-swinging plays. Reid Pennington and Haydon Rollins were responsible for many of those plays, but even though they have moved on, the defensive backs are still up to their old tricks.
After Statesboro had scored to take a 13-7 lead in the second quarter, the Panthers appeared to be on the move. Lakeside picked up two quick first downs, but a deep pass by Banks was overthrown and Jacob Schofill sailed into the air to grab the interception and set up the Devils with great field position.
An almost identical play occurred in the third quarter as Ben Roberts recognized a deep throw and beat the receiver into position to make the interception.
With Lakeside in the middle of a desperate rally and facing 4th-and-9 in SHS territory late in the fourth quarter, Schofill came to the rescue again. Banks delivered a perfect strike with enough distance to get the first down, but Schofill laid down a devastating hit to knock the ball loose and seal the game.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.