There are lows, then there are low-lows — then there’s rock bottom.
Whatever you want to call it —Statesboro has reached it in the grand history of what has been a historically great football program.
It all came to a point Friday night when the Blue Devils dropped their final game of the season to Wayne County 35-9. But even at 0-10, head coach Steve Pennington wouldn’t trade his players for anything.
“No doubt it’s been a tough season for our whole school” Pennington said. “But these are the young men our community needs to be proud of who faced adversity at the end of a winless season. These kids finished. They are winners in my book.”
Even with that ringing endorsement, it doesn’t take away the sting of being not only the worst team in Statesboro history — but the only winless team in school history as well.
“It sucks,” said junior Wright Rockett. “I hate it for these seniors too.”
But Friday’s game didn’t start out like the makings of a winless season. Statesboro turned Wayne over on downs following a 12-play, 49-yard opening drive to the Statesboro 31. But the Blue Devil’s would go three-and- out on two dropped passes, punting it back to Wayne to start on their own 30.
That allowed Wayne to strike first, going 70 yards on just six plays capped by a 29 yard run by MJ Fuller for the score. But Statesboro would respond right back.
Aided by two personal fouls from Wayne County, Statesboro drove 70 yards and scored on a three-yard run by Tyler Gordon. A botched PAT would leave Statesboro behind 7-6 — but the response was key.
“Early on we looked real well,” Pennington said. “But then our protection started to break down and we dropped some balls we probably shouldn’t have.”
Two plays into the next drive, Wayne quarterback Garrett Overholt took a shot on a deep post to Kolby Wallace — who was singularly covered by Julian Harrison. Harrison met Wallace the same time the pass did, ripped the ball from Wallace’s hands and returned it to the Wayne 15 to end the first quarter.
“I didn’t even think I had caught it at first,” Harrison said, who defended three passes on the night. “But the minute I came down with it I looked for a lineman and ran.”
Even with the crowd roaring with approval coming into the second quarter, three runs by the Blue Devils yielded only four yards — leading to a 29 yard field goal by Caleb Dowden to put Statesboro up 9-7.
But Statesboro’s momentum would last less than one minute.
Fuller hit a 75-yard run on the second play of the subsequent drive to put Wayne up 14-9, and the avalanche just continued from there.
Wayne scored on their next two drives in just 11 plays, averaging 12 yards a play en route to back-to-back touchdown passes from Garrett Overholt to Kolby Wallace.
All the while Statesboro would average 1.2 yards on their next three drives with three penalties.
“Defensively the big play has hurt us all season,” Pennington said. “Then we had to chase the chains offensively.”
Even with great field position on their final drive of the half following a 76-yard kickoff return by Stacy Fleming, Statesboro managed to throw an interception inside the Wayne 10 to end the half.
The second half saw no better results for Statesboro. While the defense only allowed one touchdown and held Wayne to 4.2 yards per play on four second half drives. Compared to the 8.5 yards per play given up by the Blue Devil’s in the first half, it was a major improvement.
“We’ve got some fighters on this team with some tenacity,” Pennington said. “But with our youth and lack of certain abilities that’s the only thing we can hang our hat on.”
But the offense couldn’t get out of its own way. Statesboro threw two more interceptions, turned the ball over on downs, punted and simply ran the clock out on their five second half drives. This is all while the Blue Devil’s averaged merely 1.7 yards per play in the second half, compared to 4.3 in the first half.
The game would be drawn out by penalties in an unusually chippy game. Wayne County drew five personal fouls, with 12 total penalties to their credit for 135 yards.
“They came in here talking a lot of trash,” Rockett said. “You can’t let someone come in here and disrespect you like that.”
Wayne’s Fuller would emerge as the star of the game, going for 216 yards on 19 carries for two scores. Tupac Lanier led the way in offense for the Blue Devils, gaining 54 yards on 10 total touches.
As for what the future holds for Statesboro, it’s tough to say at this point. After winning four games in three seasons, it’s reasonable to say some sort of change is in order for the program.
But as for what exactly those changes are going to be, only time will tell what direction the school board will go after 2016.