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Hawgs leading the Blue Devils' charge
SHS FOOTBALL 111910 0210
Statesboro Blue Devils quarterback Reid Pennington looks out over offensive linemen Hunter Lamar (74) and Kwasie Murphy (75) before the ball is snapped in this file photo from Statesboro's 34-28 win over Griffin in the second round of the GHSA Class AAAA state playoffs Friday.

    Throughout the season, the Statesboro rushing attack has been leading the charge, taking the Devils to the quarterfinal round of the GHSA Class AAAA playoffs to be held Friday at Kell.
    The Blue Devils’ stable of talented running backs get the majority of the praise for putting up big numbers week after week, but it is the unsung players manning the offensive line that make those big plays possible.
    “It doesn’t matter what kind of a team you are,” said SHS coach Steve Pennington. “Whether you want to run the ball or throw it, everything starts with good blocking up front. If you can’t create running lanes or protect the quarterback, then the offense isn’t going anywhere.”
    The Blue Devil line has run into some adversity, but has continued to prevail. Early injuries forced some new players into action —and some experienced ones into new positions — but the line was up to the challenge each time they were needed.
    The many players that have chipped in on the line has also added to increased competition among the ranks.  As starters return, they have continued to contribute, but are also being pushed by those who have proven that they can also be effective.
    “Everyone on this team knows where they stand,” said Pennington. “Our guys aren’t afraid to speak up and push each other. It says a lot for a team when the players are willing to demand better effort instead of relying on just the coaches.”
    Perhaps the biggest sign of the offensive line’s success is its relative anonymity.
    Many times, the only recognition that an offensive lineman will get is when his number is called for a penalty or when his man has gotten through for a sack. Despite the revolving door of new and inexperienced players or replacements due to injury, upperclassmen like Hunter Lamar and Freddie Burden have done an excellent job in providing leadership and making sure that the line stays as inconspicuous as possible.
“It’s great to know that the line is always doing its job,” said running back Aaron Lester. “A couple of times, we’ve been in spots where the offense had to get going late in the game. The line just tells us running backs to get behind them and keep going. We have a lot of faith in each other to get the job done.”
    Now on the verge of reaching the state semifinals for the first time since the championship season of 2005, it is the offensive line that has set the tone for the team. Their relentless and punishing style conforms perfectly to the Devils’ grinding, ball-control game plan, and this year’s Devils are starting to remind fans of championship squads of the past with each passing week.
    “We began the year banking on the offensive line,” said Pennington. “We knew that if we wanted to go places, it was going to have to start with them. They answered the call at the beginning of the season, and it’s no different now.”

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