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My Take: Ups and downs mark first prep games of season

After the last two weekends, all four Bulloch County teams have now played a game on the regular season schedule, including Bulloch Academy playing a pair.
    For some of the units of those teams, this Friday can’t get here fast enough.
    For others, well, they’re hoping the old adage is true about the most improvement occurring between the first and second games of the season.
    Things could change quickly as teams dive into region schedules shortly, but here’s what we know from our first glance.

Bulloch Academy
    The Gators look like they’ve managed a complete 180-degree turnaround from the end of last season.
    Bulloch seemed as if its identity as a powerhouse running offense was slipping when it lost its final six games of 2013 and scored more than 17 points just once during that span. Two games in August have netted 106 points and produced running clocks in the fourth quarters of a pair of blowout wins.
    Lanier Olliff has been a key to the Gators’ revival.
    Olliff sat out much of last season with a broken ankle, but is now healthy and running Bulloch’s option offense like a seasoned pro.
    The defense has also been stellar as Tyce Lovett and Lee Waters have tightened up a unit that had trouble throughout region play last season.
    The Gators will get their first big test of the season Friday as they take on the defending Class A state champs from Robert Toombs.

    While Bulloch tries to keep the momentum going, the Blue Devils of Statesboro have spent the last week trying to regroup from a season-opening loss.
    It was easy to predict that SHS would struggle offensively as nearly every contributing skill position player from last season has moved on. Unfortunately for the Devils, those predictions proved accurate in a 12-0 loss to Burke County in the Erk Russell Classic.
    Things don’t get much easier this week as Wayne County comes to town after beating Statesboro in each of the last two seasons. But Wayne is also feeling the sting of departed seniors.
    Statesboro coach Steve Pennington and his staff has shown the ability to adjust and remain competitive year in and year out. The Devils have been busy trying to make corrections as SHS enjoyed a bye last week.
    If the offense can figure out a way to find the scoreboard, the defense has shown that it’s still able to handle anything thrown — or run — at it.

    Owners of the most dramatic victory of the young season are the Portal Panthers.
    Portal made Jon Willoughby’s head coaching debut a memorable one as the defense forced a fumble and returned it for a touchdown in the waning minutes of last Friday’s 18-12 win over Josey.
    The Portal offense couldn’t manage much through the air and had trouble maintaining drives at times, but showed big-play potential as Malik Williams topped the 100-yard mark on the ground and scored a pair of touchdowns.
    The Panthers’ defense allowed just one long scoring drive and came up with a pair of turnovers in the fourth quarter. The secondary had a few lapses, but it will once again be tough to run on the defensive front.
    With Portal competing in Class A — where a ratings system determines postseason berths instead of region standings — every game counts toward its playoff resume. The win over Class AAA Josey awarded the Panthers a nice bonus. A struggling Treutlen squad visits on Friday, but the schedule only gets tougher for the Panthers from there.

Southeast Bulloch
    The Yellow Jackets of Southeast Bulloch dropped their season opener last week at Pierce County, but have plenty to keep their heads up about.
    Like Statesboro, the Jackets lost almost all of their offense from 2013 and took on Pierce — always a region title contender — with young skill position players and an unproven offensive line.
    SEB responded, giving the Bears a tough game and getting to within 29-26 in the third quarter before Pierce was able to pull away.   
    The Bears were able to put up yards and points on the Jacket defense, but SEB has a veteran group of starters on that side of the ball who should continue to gel. It also helps that they probably won’t see an offense that threatening again anytime soon.
    The Jackets have high hopes for this season and — thanks to a region split that has left them grouped with some perennial cellar-dwellers — a great chance to make a second consecutive trip to the postseason.
    If bright spots like running back Michael Davis (24 carries, 199 yards and a touchdown in the opener) continue to pop up for SEB, the wins won’t be too far behind.

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