EVANS — Teams don’t always need to be great. They just need to be great when it counts.
Statesboro twice came from behind and mounted its winning drive in the final two minutes as senior kicker Caleb Brown split the uprights from 36 yards out as time expired to give the Blue Devils a 26-24 win over Lakeside, Evans Friday night.
“I wasn’t too nervous,” said Brown of his game-winner. “The offense did its job to get down the field. They put it right in the middle for me from inside of 40 yards. That’s easy for me. I was really confident.”
Things didn’t look so bright for the Devils (4-1, 1-0 Region 2-AAAA) just minutes before.
Statesboro used a wave of second half momentum to erase a 16-6 halftime deficit and build a 23-16 lead, but almost saw it all slip away.
On its final drive, Lakeside quarterback Ben Wilson hit Sigee on back-to-back plays for gains of 25 and 21 yards to drive to the Blue Devil 5 yard line.
Two plays later Wilson connected with Johnny Leonard to draw the Panthers (1-4, 0-1) within 23-22 and a bad snap on the ensuing extra point saw Alex Pritchard scramble for an impromptu two-point conversion to put Lakeside ahead 24-23 with just 3:49 remaining.
“That was a little bit of bad luck for us,” said SHS coach Steve Pennington. “We didn’t get down on ourselves though. The offense just put their helmets back on and said that they would put it on their shoulders.”
After a quiet first half, the Statesboro offense was explosive coming out of the locker room.
The Devils began the third quarter with a 16 play drive that ended with Dequan Daniels’ 3 yard touchdown run to pull the Devils within 16-13.
After holding Lakeside to a three-and-out on its next possession, Willie Johnson blocked a Panther punt out of bounds to give Statesboro good field position and Daniels raced in from 26 yards out to give the Devils a 20-16 advantage.
A 20 yard field goal by Brown early in the fourth quarter pushed the lead to 23-16.
Adding to the impressiveness of Statesboro’s comeback was the fact that it did so without the services of starting quarterback Reid Pennington. The junior signal caller was forced to the sideline with an abdominal tear and will likely miss the next few weeks.
“I think people saw a team with a lot of heart out there tonight,” said Steve Pennington. “We had some obstacles to overcome and we were facing a very good opponent, but this team never stopped believing in itself and never quit fighting.”
The Lakeside spread attack – usually a quick-strike threat – took its time on the opening drive.
The Panthers took control at their own 21 yard line and mounted a marathon drive that spanned 10 plays and ate up 6:06 on the game clock. A key pass interference call against Statesboro helped to keep the drive alive and Wilson dove in from four yards out to give the Panthers an early 7-0 lead.
Statesboro appeared to answer right back as Daniels took the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown, but a holding call nullified the run.
The Devils were still able to bounce back as Aaron Lester rushed twice for 29 yards to the Panther 1 and then finished the drive with a touchdown dive, but a bobbled snap allowed Lakeside to block Caleb Brown’s extra point attempt and the Panthers maintained a 7-6 lead.
Wilson ripped off a 60 yard touchdown run on the next Lakeside possession to push the lead to 13-6 and a Panther field goal in the final minute of the first half extended the advantage to 16-6 at the break.
Next week, the Devils return to Womack Field for the first time since September 3 to take on Effingham County in another sub-region matchup.
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.