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Devils' defense gets to work
Statesboro's Ben Roberts wraps up Brunswick receiver Lavosh Wynn (4) as teammates Reggie Owens, left, and Corey Harden close in. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

    Heading into the season, the Statesboro offense dominated the headlines. While the Blue Devils’ defense wasn’t spotlighted heading into their opening game, they wasted no time in making their presence known.
    Matched up against a high-flying Brunswick offense last week, the Statesboro defense stuck to the plan that proved victorious in the pair 2010 meetings between the rivals. In the end, there was a familiar result — Brunswick has been held under 20 points just four times in its last 14 games, and has the Blue Devil defense to thank for three of those shutdowns.
    After a Pirate touchdown in the middle of the second quarter tied the game at 14-14, the Statesboro defense slammed the door on all further opportunities. The Devils recorded four of their five turnovers in the second half, allowing the offense to pull away for an easy 35-14 win.
    “Brunswick spread us out a little wider than we figured they would,” said SHS linebacker J.D. Pope, who recorded one of the Devils’ four interceptions on the night. “They have a lot of speed, but once we made some adjustments, we were able to stop them.”
    It wasn’t so long ago that defense dominated nearly every talking point about the Blue Devils. Many of the great SHS squads of the last decade were more defensively oriented and both the 2001 and 2005 relied on shutting down opponents to win.
    The 2011 squad doesn’t have the star power of previous Devil defenses – at least not yet – but it is the team effort put out that allows it to be so effective.
    “Eleven is more than two or three,” said SHS coach Steve Pennington. “In the past, we have had some guys that have been able to use their abilities to make up for mistakes.
    “Right now, we aren’t good enough to make those mistakes and still win, but that’s what helps us to be better. We need to stay focused and organized on every single play in order to succeed. That’s what we were able to do against Brunswick.”
    What some defenses are able to gain in intimidation and overall dominance, the Devils have a knack for making up in timeliness and importance.
    Statesboro allowed a few long drives by the Pirates last week, but dug in and held when it started to run out of ground to defend.  Three of the Devils’ five forced turnovers came on their own end of the field, ultimately ending any chances of a late Brunswick comeback.
    “We’re a pretty confident group,” said senior cornerback Haydon Rollins. “We’ve all played a lot and are on the same page. Having that chemistry really helps in big spots when you’re sure that everyone is doing what they’re supposed to be doing.”
    This week, the Devils get another big challenge as they are tasked with slowing down a big, physical Washington County team. Last season, the Statesboro defense shut out the Golden Hawks over the final two quarters, allowing for a 19-14 comeback win for the Devils.
    This season, Statesboro expects a similar challenge.
    “We know that Washington County is a tough team,” said Rollins. “We’ve been watching film and remember what they had last year. It’s a challenge, but I know we can get it done.”

    Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.