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Devils hit the road

    With its first road contest of 2011 on the schedule tonight, Statesboro will try to put the hurt on Washington County at “The House of Pain”.
    In addition to the long trek to Sandersville, the No. 2 ranked Blue Devils (1-0) know that they will have a laundry list of obstacles to overcome in order to remain unbeaten on the young season.
    “Washington County is a tough place to go visit,” said SHS coach Steve Pennington. “There’s going to be a packed house, and you’re always going to have a very tough team to contend with.”
    Last season, the Devils got a taste of just how tough of a customer the Golden Hawks (1-0) can be. Playing on Statesboro’s home turf, Washington County led for much of the game before a late touchdown vaulted the Devils to a 19-14 come from behind victory.
    That game was a grind for all four quarters — something that can be expected again tonight.
    “Washington is very similar to us in that they pride themselves on being a very physical football team,” said Pennington. “They have some great size up front and they try to wear you down. This game will probably be won or lost over those battles in the trenches.”
    Despite being a bit smaller than the Hawks on both lines, Statesboro has plenty of weapons to bring to the fight. Eight defensive regulars return for a Devil defense that stifled Washington’s bruising offense last season and the SHS offense features the dual running threat of Georgia Tech commit Michael Summers and 2010 All-State recipient Quan Daniels.
    Still, for all of the talent and history that the Devils can tout, Washington County is one of the few opponents that can boast just as many accolades.
    “Washington is a powerhouse program,” said Pennington. “They prove year in and year out that they can be a top tier team. They have state titles to prove it and a bunch of guys who have gone on to the NFL. You see that history and you know what you’re getting into.”
    Shutting down the Hawks again this year will be an even bigger challenge as they have added some new wrinkles into their game. Usually content to pound the ball on the ground like Statesboro does, Washington County has added some spread formations into its arsenal and is utilizing the pass more.
    The look will be new for many of the Hawks’ opponents, but Statesboro should be prepared as it dealt with Brunswick’s spread offense last week.
    “Washington is doing some different things this year, but we got a good look at it watching the film,” said SHS cornerback Haydon Rollins. “The biggest preparation is just remembering last year. They are big and tough, but we’ll be ready.”
    Regardless of what is run — or thrown — at it, the Statesboro defense will be looking to continue the trend it started last week. During the win over Brunswick, the Devils forced five turnovers and made most of their biggest plays down the stretch to put the game away.
    “It’s usually going to end well if you can win the turnover battle like that,” said Pennington. “This week, it’s going to be the same game plan. Protect the ball on offense, then play solid defense and make the most of our opportunities.”
    Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.