Statesboro (8-1, 2-1) at Glenn Hills (5-4, 3-2)
7:30 p.m., 102.9 FM
The do-or-die portion of the season begins a week early for the Statesboro Blue Devils as they make the trip up to Augusta tonight to take on Glenn Hills in the Region 3-AAAA play-in round.
Statesboro (8-1, 2-1) came within a missed field goal last week of playing for the region title and a top seed in the state playoffs. Instead, the Devils must win tonight just to get into the state bracket as a No. 3 seed and would likely have to spend its entire playoff run away from Womack Field.
The road is much tougher than it seemed just a week ago, but that doesn’t change the strategy for Statesboro.
“Obviously, we have to win or else we’re done,” SHS coach Steve Pennington said. “I don’t think that’s putting a lot of pressure on us though. We expect to be in the playoffs each season, so this play-in game doesn’t change much. With the way our sub-region sets up, we’ve been in that playoff mentality for the last month.”
Part of the postseason is running into new teams. Tonight’s game is technically still a regular season contest, but the Tar Heels (5-4, 3-2) will be a new face.
Statesboro’s first nine games mirrored those from last season, giving the Devils plenty of familiarity with each week’s opponent. But sub-region standings dictate the tenth game, meaning that Glenn Hills will be standing on the opposite sideline for the first time since 2003.
The Devils have been adjusting to the tape they’ve studied throughout the week and are looking forward to the challenge of a new opponent.
“When you play the same team every year, you can get comfortable with what to expect,” Pennington said. “That can be a detriment if you get too confident. With a new opponent, you have to focus more to prepare yourself.”
Statesboro will have to be ready for a multiple-look Tar Heel offense that has been held under 20 points just once in its last six games.
Glenn Hills spreads the field with many of formations, but also has good size on the line and can utilize a power rushing attack. The look is similar to Lakeside, which Statesboro struggled with early in the season opener before adjusting and pulling away in the second half.
“Our biggest concern is their speed,” Pennington said. “There might be some spots where we can match up well, but Glenn Hills might have the best team speed we’ve seen all season.”
The Tar Heels have utilized a dual-quarterback system for much of the season and Pennington noted that both have running and throwing abilities that will force his defense to stay honest regardless of who lines up behind center.
Colin Chance is the only quarterback to have taken a meaningful snap for the Devils so far this season and will be looking to guide his troops past a rough outing in last week’s loss. Chance could have the benefit of seeing his favorite target return as Joe Corless — who missed last week’s game with a sprained ankle — has seen some practice time this week and is hopeful to play.
Another key to tonight’s matchup will be avoiding penalties. Statesboro committed 70 yards worth of penalties last week that killed a number of promising drives.
“You don’t want to harp on it,” Pennington said. “Our guys are mature. We know that we can’t do that. The biggest thing is moving past penalties when they do happen. It’s tough enough to just get 10 yards. If we start getting flags thrown in bunches, it’s very hard to stay in a rhythm and keep the ball moving.”
In order to negate the Tar Heels’ speed and big play ability on offense, the Statesboro attack will look to its talent and depth at running back. Just one Blue Devil, Zach Grant, has more than 500 rushing yards this season, but Pennington has half a dozen backs that he trusts with the ball and that can stay fresh while defenses wear down.
“The plan is the same, regardless of the situation,” Pennington said. “Our goal is to go out there and play to the best of our ability.
“The only difference is that now it’s a playoff setting. You win. You grin. And then you move on.”
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.