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Despite four county losses, optimism is abound
Statesboro High's Tupac Lanier, left, grabs a touchdown pass from quarterback Davis Wiggins just before halftime against Burke County Friday.

The official week one of high school football is in the books and on its face things look to have picked up right where Bulloch County left things in 2016.
Last season saw football hit the doldrums within the county lines. Portal, Statesboro, Southeast Bulloch and Bulloch Academy combined to go 11-27-1, one of the worst combined marks since all four schools started playing football.
All four teams lost last week and when you roll in the other four area teams you’ll be left with an 0-8 record since Claxton, Pinewood, ECI and Jenkins County all lost. At purely a surface level, this doesn’t seem encouraging for the next ten weeks of the season. But when you dig deeper, there is room for optimism for the four county schools.
This early on in the season there’s still plenty of room for optimism for teams looking to get into the playoffs. No one’s hit the meat of the region schedule yet and a one-game sample size is never a good way to judge a team’s total performance.
Every Tuesday for the next ten weeks we’ll recap the weekend that was and look to what it could mean heading into this Friday, just like we did last season. So here’s a little more on the four county schools and how their Friday’s fared.


Fans were right to be anxious about their season opener Friday due to the eight month buildup of wondering what Statesboro would look like under their new head coach Jeff Kaiser. Blue Devil fans got a glimpse of what changes were to come at the spring game, but with no preseason scrimmage there was still some mystery as to what SHS would look like.
After Friday some of the mystery was lifted and even if the score didn’t reflect progress the statistics did. Statesboro’s 7.5 yards per play was nearly double that of their best offensive performance last season (4.8). The 27 points was also the most the Blue Devils scored since Oct. 16, 2015 against Bradwell Institute.
If we’re going off a one game sample, Davis Wiggins and Tupac Lanier look to be a dynamic pair in Statesboro’s new RPO offense. The pair combined for 166 yards on the ground at 7.9 yards a pop and connected on two touchdown passes. It was a solid sign of better things to come from an offense which had hit a three year slog.
Defensively Statesboro still has a lot of work to do. Much like they did last season, Burke County lined up in tight formations and like a battering ram slowly caved in the Blue Devil front seven for 398 rushing yards. While Liberty County’s offense isn’t the world beater it was a season ago, SHS needs to find an answer up the middle of their defensive front.

Southeast Bulloch

With a new coach, a new offense and unknown expectations Southeast Bulloch trotted out to face Richmond Hill Friday night — a team three sizes up their classification with division one wide receivers flanking either side of their senior quarterback. In essence, SEB had no reason to think they would win.
With former Statesboro head coach Steve Pennington at the helm as an interim coach, SEB came out and hung with Richmond Hill in the first half probably better than most media outlets would have predicted (this one included). Thanks to a 51-yard run by Chase Walker and Blaise Minick’s only completion of the game, the Yellow Jackets trailed 21-14 going into the half.
But eventually size, depth and talent would prevail as Richmond Hill outscored SEB 21-7 in the second half to eventually win 38-21. Pennington still has work to do with SEB on the defensive side of the ball, as Richmond Hill averaged 9.1 yards per play and 13.9 yards a pass. Fortunately for SEB, the Bobcats look to be the second best team on their schedule.
Walker picked up where he left off last season, averaging 4.9 yards a carry to roll up 143 yards on the night and two touchdowns. If SEB can find a way to make Minick a more efficient passer, there’s hope their offense could add a different dynamic that hasn’t been there the past couple of seasons.

When Portal played Treutlen County in 2016, five turnovers — including one on the Viking one yard line — played a big difference in the 22-8 loss for the Panthers. This season, it was three turnovers which played a key role in a 28-18 loss for Portal. In spite of the turnovers, there was one key difference.
In 2016 Portal struggled mightily to develop an identity on offense, an admission head coach Matt Smith has made on the record. However in this season’s contest Portal had a clear identity: run first and set up the pass later. Portal averaged 5.1 yards per play on 51 total plays, including 5.1 yards a rush on 41 carries.
But perhaps the x-factor Panther fans need to look out for is quarterback Fischer Oglesby. Last season injuries and shoddy pass protection saw the Panther QB role swivel like a saloon door, but Oglesby looks to have added some stability to his role. Granted, two interceptions isn’t a great start but a silver lining there is that they made up half of his total incompletions.
Oglesby was 6-10 for 61 yards, so if the sophomore can tighten the screws on his turnovers that will be another dimension to the Portal offense they’ve lacked in years past. Portal had their chances on Friday, but once again saw them slip by due to mistakes. They can’t afford that again against their kind of competition this season.

Bulloch Academy
Of the four county teams who played Friday, you can make the arguement BA had the greatest challenge in terms of opponent. BA, a GISA team, played up with GHSA region 5-A Our Lady of Mercy and put up a much more competitive bout with the Bobcat than they did last season.
In 2016 OLM thumped BA 30-7, but in 2017 the Gators were able to narrow the gap by 11 points in a 32-20 loss. BA hung in that score in spite of committing three turnovers, their first three of the season after benefiting from some opponent turnovers in their first two wins of the season.
Lawson Anderson came through with two touchdown passes from Don Aaron, who continues to lean into the hype that nearly swallowed him whole in 2016. Defensively BA got a taste of a GHSA quarterback in Javon Henderson, a six-foot-five, 210 pound athlete who ran for 135 yards and four touchdowns.
In the bigger picture, the OLM game ultimately doesn’t matter. It doesn’t affect their stature within the GISA not will it dent their region record and if anything only prepares them for the juggernaut they’ll face in Frederica later down the road. BA’s offense has seen gradually improvement in these games as well, a fresh sign after it struggled greatly in their opener against Memorial Day.