Statesboro outgained Evans by a 271-230 margin, but costly turnovers and untimely penalties proved to be its undoing as the Blue Devils dropped a 20-15 heartbreaker that came down to the final seconds Friday night at Womack Field.
Trailing for much of the game, Statesboro recorded a safety with a little over six minutes to play to pull within five points of the Knights, but couldn’t capitalize on its next drive and saw a final possession reach the Evans 15 before a holding penalty stalled the drive, which ended with a turnover on downs.
“These were two evenly matched teams,” said SHS coach Steve Pennington. “When that’s the case, you can’t afford to have turnovers and penalties. We made too many of those mistakes, and that certainly cost us.”
Turnovers, which the Statesboro offense has been so efficient in avoiding this season, came at all the wrong times and kept momentum on the Knights’ sideline for most of the night.
The Devils were moving the ball on their first possession of the game before a fumbled snap led to Evans’ first scoring drive.
Later in the first quarter, a 77 yard touchdown run by Michael Summers was called back on a holding penalty and the next play saw an Evans interception returned to the SHS 11-yard line and resulted in a 10-0 Knights lead.
“We have to see what positives we can take away from this game and see how we can improve,” said Pennington. “This is still a young team, and a game like this offers a great opportunity to mature. You never want to lose, but when you do, you have to learn from it and get better.”
Statesboro bounced back in the second quarter when Trai Gadson raced into the end zone from 17 yards out and the Devils took a 13-10 advantage on a 45-yard scoring run by Summers.
But Evans bounced back and drove down the field in its final chance of the first half. With just 11 seconds remaining in the second quarter, Evans quarterback Glen Cassedy found Trevor Forman for an 8-yard touchdown strike and the Knights never trailed again.
Despite the loss, Statesboro’s defense had one of its most impressive outings of the season.
Frequently put in tough spots by the Devil offense’s miscues, the defense clamped down to hold Evans to two field goals after the Knights had driven inside the 5 and twice stopped Evans – including Lenard Robinson’s sack of Cassedy for a safety – and earned the ball back as it tried to run out the clock in the fourth quarter.
“One of the positives that we can take out of tonight was our defense stepping up,” said Pennington. “For much of the year, we’ve ridden the coattails of our offense. Tonight, we weren’t executing well offensively, but it says a lot about our team that our young defense kept us in the game and gave us opportunities to win late.”
After forcing an Evans punt with 2:32 to play, the Devils quickly drove into Knights’ territory before the final penalty killed their momentum. A sack forced SHS into a 4th-and-15 situation with 31 seconds to play, and a deep ball fell just beyond the reach of Summers at the goal line to seal the Evans victory.
With the loss, Statesboro falls into a tie for first place in its sub-region. The Devils have a bye next week before facing Greenbriar in a showdown that will determine Statesboro’s seeding in the region play-in round in the final week of the regular season.
“This loss is going to hurt a little, so the first priority is to shake it off,” said Pennington. “We’re going to rest a little next week and get some people healthy, but then we need to focus on Greenbriar. We can still earn the No.1 spot in the sub-region, so we need to come out and play like it.”
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.