CAIRO — Statesboro had to travel to the southwest corner of Georgia Friday night to take on the Cairo Syrupmakers, but life is still pretty sweet for the Blue Devils.
Statesboro stormed into town and kept the home crowd quiet all night as it claimed a 21-0 win in the first round of the Class AAAA state playoffs.
The Blue Devils (10-1) got a bad taste out of their mouths with Friday’s win. After two consecutive years of being bounced in the first round, Statesboro is back in the round of 16.
“Not to be boastful, but we’ve thought for a while that this is a special team we’ve got,” SHS coach Steve Pennington said. “We came out and played a solid game. Regardless of what has happened in the past, what’s special is that these guys are getting to enjoy the fruits of their labor.”
Statesboro was forced to punt on its first drive of the night, but Tim Key dove on a Jeremiah Hill fumble to give the Devils a short field to work with on their second series.
Senior quarterback Colin Chance then lofted a high fade down the right sideline. Juhwan Osborne took flight, high-pointing the ball to wrestle it away from a Cairo defender and maintaining possession as he came down at the 3-yard line. The Syrupmakers stuffed two inside runs, but Chance rolled left on third-and-goal, finding Sherrodric Rawls for a 3-yard touchdown toss.
Cairo (7-4) nearly answered before the Devil defense came up big.
Junior quarterback Stacy Matsen led the Syrupmakers on a steady drive, picking up a pair of third-down conversions with his feet. Cairo advanced all the way to the SHS 25, but linebacker Ricky Lee read Matsen’s eyes on a short pass and stepped in front for the interception.
Statesboro’s defense was airtight throughout the night as Cairo gained just 226 yards and turned the ball over five times.
“It’s very important to keep a good team from getting momentum,” Pennington said. “It’s even more important when you’re on the road. Our defense made some big plays in big spots. What’s really nice is that we kept looking ahead to the next snap and didn’t stop with just a couple of big plays.”
Statesboro proceeded to take Cairo by surprise with a heavy dose of its option attack. Anthony Curtis and Zach Grant ripped off solid runs before Chance delivered the game’s biggest play.
A penalty and a big tackle for a loss had forced the Devils into a third-and-19 midway through the second quarter. Chance looked to regain some yardage as he rolled to the right on a keeper, but saw daylight as he cut back to his left. Chance picked up a wall of blockers and ran through a tackle at the 3 for a 58-yard touchdown run.
“I pitched it off so many times, (Cairo) finally took the pitch man,” Chance said. “I was just glad that everybody stuck with the play. My teammates were running downfield throwing blocks the whole way.”
George Hill added the extra point to give the Devils a 14-0 lead that they carried into the half.
Cairo missed a chance to get back into the game midway through the third quarter when Hill punted off the side of his foot, allowing the Syrupmakers to start a drive just shy of midfield. Matson underthrew Wooten on a deep pass for an incompletion. Three plays later, the Devils deflected a pass, and Jacob Schofill was there to intercept.
Statesboro marched back down the field, spurred on by Chance’s 31-yard completion to Malik Evans to get SHS in the red zone. Rawls capped the drive with a run from a yard out to make it 21-0.
Running on fumes, the Syrupmakers reached the Statesboro 7 as the third quarter concluded. On the first snap of the final quarter, the Devils jarred the ball loose from Hill, and Anthony Gore scooped it up to deny Cairo once more.
The Devils picked off Masten on two more desperation drives in the final two minutes to put the icing on one of their best performances of an already impressive – and still ongoing – season.
Next up for Statesboro is another lengthy road trip. Next Friday, the Devils will head north to take on Region 4-AAAA champ Griffin in the second round.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.