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Devils in second round of state for first time since 2010
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Statesboro High running back Zach Grant dives for a touchdown during a Nov. 2 game against Wayne County. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

    For the first time in three seasons — which must seem like an eternity to a perennially successful program — Statesboro is back in the second round of the state football playoffs.
    The Blue Devils (10-1) didn’t draw the easiest of roads for their postseason adventure. Statesboro had to travel all the way over to Cairo last Friday night, but paraded back to town with the school’s first postseason victory since a win over Kell in the quarterfinals of the 2010 playoffs.
    A skid of three consecutive playoff losses in now a thing of the past, but the Devils are more concerned with what lies ahead.
    “It’s great anytime you can get a win in the playoffs,” SHS coach Steve Pennington said. “We’re glad to get through the first round, but we don’t have time to celebrate that win last week. As soon as that game ended, the new goal was to get a win in the next round.”
    Things won’t get any easier this week as the Devils again hit the road to take on Griffin this Friday.
    The Bears are a perfect 11-0 on the season and have been in the top 5 of every Class AAAA state poll this season. This will mark the third overall meeting between the two schools. The previous two games were also postseason contests with Statesboro claiming a 34-28 victory in 2010 and edging out a 7-0 win in the Georgia Dome in the 2005 semifinals.

Defense wins     championships
    Statesboro has had its share of offensive outburst this season. Six different Blue Devils have registered scoring plays of more than 30 yards this year and SHS has scored at least 21 points in all but one of its contests this season.
    That said, the Devil defense has been a dominant force throughout the season and has refused to allow most opponents to stay competitive.
    “Everything has fallen into place at the right time,” Pennington said. “We knew coming into the year that we had some experienced guys that we could count on. The biggest thing has been getting some younger guys to step up and fill roles.
    “Everyone is playing selfless team defense. They’ll sacrifice whatever is necessary to help and they don’t care if it’s someone else’s name getting called on the P.A. at the end of the play.”
    The Devils are allowing just 8.5 points per game. Of the four teams to reach double-digits against Statesboro, only two were able to do so before the game was out of reach and the Devils’ substitutes entered the game.
    But Statesboro isn’t the only team that knows how to shut down opponents. Griffin is averaging just 8.2 points per game and has recorded five shutouts — including a 34-0 rout of Rutland in its first round playoff game last week.

On the brink of 600
    Statesboro’s main focus this week will be defeating Griffin and advancing in the postseason, but a win will also push the Devils into rarified air.
    The Blue Devils currently sit just one win away from the 600th in school history — a feat that few others in Georgia can claim. In case this week’s matchup needed anything more to prove that it is truly a clash of titans, the Bears are just six wins shy of 600 in their history.
    “I think that stands as a credit to the program and the community that we have here at Statesboro,” Pennington said. “It takes a lot to be consistent year in and year out. We do our best to keep that tradition going. Regardless of the number of wins, the best way to do that is to go out there on Friday and play to the best of our abilities.”

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