First Downs 15 11
Rush Yards 42-265 32-109
Pass Yards 54 121
Total Yards 319 230
Comp-Att-Int 3-5-0 8-14-1
Turnovers 0 2
Penalties 9-65 2-20
Rushing: SHS: Grant, 12-122, 2 TD. LCHS: Williams, 12-39.
Passing: SHS: Chance, 3-5-54. LCHS: Waters, 8-13-121, TD.
Receiving: SHS: Rawls, 2-37. LCHS: McSwain, 2-36, TD
SHS 7 10 0 7 — 24
LCHS 0 7 0 0 — 7
6:40 — Grant (SHS) 17 run (Hill kick)
6:20 — Grant (SHS) 4 run (Hill kick)
5:06 — McSwain(LCHS) 29 pass from Waters (PAT Good)
2:07 — Hill (SHS) 49 yard field goal
1:22 — Curtis (SHS) 1 run (Hill kick)
HINESVILLE — Two undefeated teams waged a battle as intense as any playoff game Friday night at Donell Woods Stadium.
In the end, it was Statesboro that was still standing.
The Blue Devils got rushing touchdowns from Zach Grant and Sherrodric Rawls and a 49-yard field goal from George Hill to build a halftime lead. Statesboro’s defense forced a pair of turnovers in the second half, and Anthony Curtis put the nail in the coffin with another scoring run in the final minutes as the Devils came away with a 24-7 win.
“This was a very physical game,” SHS coach Steve Pennington said. “I give Liberty a lot of credit. These were two teams hitting hard all game. In the end, I’m proud of our guys for willing themselves to be just a little tougher.”
Both teams entered the game with 6-0 records, but Friday’s matchup was the first in sub-region play for both schools. The Panthers’ overall record still looks good, but with only two sub-region tilts remaining, Liberty is now in a fight for its postseason life.
On the other sideline, the Devils — ranked fifth in the latest Class AAAA state poll — are once again in great position to vie for a region title and a high seed in the state playoffs. Still, Statesboro has two more sub-region games to go and the effects of even one loss were quite clear on the faces of the Devils’ latest opponent.
“There’s no doubt that this one was huge,” Pennington said. “You just can’t afford to fall behind with such a short sub-region schedule. That said, we can’t focus on winning the region or anything like that. We have to stay focused on our next two games.”
With both defenses hitting hard throughout the night, it took Statesboro a couple of drives to get on the board. Colin Chance scrambled on a broken pass play midway through the first quarter and found Rawls for a 31-yard pickup. Two plays later, Grant knifed through the middle for an 18-yard scoring run.
In the second quarter, the Devils struck again.
Nearing midfield, Grant broke off a 13-yard run and a horse-collar penalty moved SHS to the Liberty 28. Rawls muscled his way down to the 5 and scored two plays later.
The Panthers responded as Jordan Waters found Freddie McSwain on a 29-yard touchdown strike to pull within 14-7, but Hill regained the Devils’ two-possession advantage with his booming kick just before the half.
“Special teams played a huge role tonight,” Pennington said. “George made a heck of a kick, and we did a great job of limiting Liberty’s return guys on kickoffs and punts.”
Led by five-star linebacker Raekwon McMillan (12 tackles), the Panthers locked things down through most of the second half.
Liberty’s offense attempted to rally, but Josh Smith picked off a wide receiver pass thrown by Richard Lecounte. Late in the fourth quarter, the Panthers drove into the SHS red zone only to see the Devils hold again. Statesboro forced a fourth-and-4 from its own 17 and a halfback toss was fumbled into the arms of linebacker Tim Key.
Statesboro then went on its victory march, taking more than five minutes off the clock before Curtis plunged in from a yard out for the game’s final points with just 1:22 to play.
“We preach to our offensive line to finish the drill,” Pennington said. “That’s what we saw on that last drive. We knew that we had a chance to put away the game, and we kept moving the chains.”
From here, the Devils get a moment of rest. Statesboro is off next week, but will have to notch wins in its final games against South Effingham and Wayne County to assure itself a spot in the Region 3-AAAA championship game.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.