Statesboro was handed a tough task by the schedule makers this season as it must play four of its first five games on the road.
That doesn’t seem to have bothered the Blue Devils too much as they have gotten off to a 3-0 start and travel to Hinesville tonight for a cross-region matchup against Liberty County (0-3).
The Panthers are one of five teams that moved up from the AAA classification of the Georgia High School Association to join Statesboro in Region 2-AAAA. The Blue Devils are serving as the de facto welcoming committee for the region, having dates with four of the five newcomers this season.
After winning eight games and making a state playoff appearance last season, Liberty County has had a much rougher time in 2010. The Panthers are still looking for their first win of the season and have already dropped a pair of games to teams in lower classifications.
Regardless of the record, there are still many experienced players on the team that know how to win big games.
"It’s important that we don’t look past Liberty just because of their record," said SHS coach Steve Pennington. "This is a team that is used to winning and that is very hungry for a win. That makes them incredibly dangerous."
Tonight could serve as the toughest test to date for Statesboro’s young defense.
The Devils have performed well against the spread (Brunswick and Tattnall County) and a power running game (Washington County) but the Panthers’ attack will be the most dynamic offense that Statesboro has seen so far.
"Liberty has a very good mix and can spread you at or run it right at you," said Pennington. "They have one of the premier running backs in southeast Georgia in Shadrach Thorton. They utilize him in all facets of their offense and show many different formations that we’ll have to adjust to."
While Statesboro would love to continue its winning streak, the prospect of next week’s sub-region game — which will help determine seeding for the play-in games at the end of the season — might still influence the personnel on the field.
The Blue Devils’ depth chart is still in flux after a rash of injuries in the opening weeks.
Pennington is optimistic that many injured Devils will return soon, but will still exercise caution in rushing players back to the field, especially with more important games on the horizon.
"We’ve definitely got some serious bumps and bruises," said Pennington. "(running back) Michael Summers (ankle) has been getting a little better every day and will be a game time decision. Last week, (linebacker) Reggie Owens was out, but we hope he’ll see some action this week, and (offensive lineman) Daniel Pollock (knee) just had surgery and we hope to have him back in a few weeks."
The Devils were successful in their first cross-region matchup of the year, defeating Brunswick in the season opener.
Next week, the Devils get another region newcomer as they complete a three-game road trip at Lakeside, Evans.
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.