No. 4 Statesboro (3-0) at No. 5 Burke County (2-1)
7:30 p.m., 102.9 FM
The Statesboro Blue Devils find themselves in one of the marquee matchups throughout the state tonight as they head to Waynesboro to take on Burke County.
The Devils have a perfect 3-0 record and are ranked No. 4 in the Class AAAA poll while the Bears (2-1) hold the No. 5 spot.
Burke rode a 14-1 record to the Class AAA title last season and has now moved up a classification due to realignment in the state. The Bears now face a top opponent in what could be a preview of the Region 3-AAAA championship game in November.
Tonight’s game has been circled on the calendars of fans for both teams since the schedule was released early this year, but the Devils are trying to keep things in focus.
“This is a very important game for us, but that’s because it’s the only game we have on the schedule this week,” said SHS coach Steve Pennington. “All of those outside forces – polls, championships, trophies – that puts a lot of hype around this game. All we’re concerned with is executing and trying to beat a very talented opponent.”
Statesboro is looking for a much different outcome than the last time these teams met.
In 2009, the Bears took control early and ran away with a 35-17 victory.
Only a few players from that game remain on either roster, but the same explosive offense that gave the Devils fits will be looking for more of the same this time around.
If Statesboro wants to slow down Burke, it will have to figure out a way to contain dual threat quarterback Donquell Green. The Bears have plenty of athleticism that can stretch the field deep in the passing game, but Green is just as dangerous on his feet. Last week, he torched Coffee County for 246 yards on the ground and threw for 113 more while passing or running for all five Bears touchdowns in a 33-21 win.
Pennington credited the SHS scout team with doing a good job of preparing the defense for what they will face, but a few adjustments had to be made to compensate for Burke’s offensive firepower.”
“We had to use a few guys from our starting offense to give our defense the right look,” said Pennington. “When we need guys like Dequan Daniels and Sherrodric Rawls to simulate (Burke’s) quarterback, we know that we’re in for a challenge.”
The toughest part of stopping Burke will be knowing how to defend its different looks.
“Burke will formation you to death,” said Pennington. “We counted about 20 different formations that they’ve lined up in. The key is patience. Burke has speed and misdirection. They want you to attack and that’s when they can catch you for a big play.”
Despite Statesboro’s own weapons at running back, Pennington was clear that he doesn’t want tonight’s game to turn into a track meet.
Instead, the Blue Devils will stick to their tried and true method of pounding away at their opponent and dictating the pace of the game. By controlling the ball and executing on offense, the Devils hope to play the game on their terms.
“It might sound like a broken record, but that’s how we’re going to approach our games,” said Pennington. “We want to shorten the game and keep our offense out on the field. We need to stay on our blocks and also make tackles when we get the chance on defense.”
Fans can expect to settle in for a battle tonight, but for the Devils, the biggest challenge is getting the best out of themselves.
Despite a tough opponent and a chance to make a statement in the polls, Statesboro is more concerned with the big picture.
“Playing against an opponent as good as Burke County gives us a measuring stick,” said Pennington. “We can see how far we have come since the beginning of the season. But more importantly, playing against a team as good as Burke will show us how much farther we need to go.”
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.