Three years may not seem like a long time, but for Statesboro football fans it may feel like an eternity since they made the state playoffs. Friday night the Blue Devils looked as though they were going to give their seniors a chance to experience the postseason for the first time in their high school careers.
Statesboro went into the locker room at halftime with a little momentum, scoring on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Davis Wiggins to Cory Gibson with 1:17 left in the half to take a 17-14 lead. But for the first time all season the Blue Devils were shut out in the second half, as they were outscored 14-0, and their postseason hopes were ended once again by South Effingham as they fell 28-17.
“The game went back and forth and we had our opportunities,” said Statesboro head coach Jeff Kaiser, “But just as we have done throughout the season, we didn’t finish.”
Statesboro came out throwing the ball early and often. Davis Wiggins ended up 11-29 through the air with two touchdowns and one interception, and plenty of dropped passes accounting for some of the misses.
“We knew we were going to have a tough time running against this team,” said Kaiser, “We threw the ball pretty well in the first half, they got some pressure though in the second half, and we struggled a bit, and the bottom line is they just beat us in that second half.”
Statesboro opened the game much like they have throughout the season, marching downfield and finishing their first scoring drive with a 13-yard pass from Davis Wiggins to Corey Gibson for a 7-0 lead. The Mustangs answered with a 49-yard pass from Taylor Jackson to Brian Meyer to tie the game at 7-7 after one quarter of play.
In the second quarter the Statesboro defense came up with a big turnover as Cory Gibson picked off a Taylor Jackson pass at the Mustang 30-yard line to give the Blue Devils excellent field position. That drive stalled and Caleb Dowden split the uprights from 44-yards away for a 10-7 Statesboro lead.
Following a Statesboro muffed punt at their own 5-yard line, South Effingham added a 5-yard touchdown from Jackson to a wide open Meyer for a 14-10 Mustang lead. But the Blue Devils came right back behind the arm of Wiggins connecting on a few first down passes, and capping the drive with a 5-yard touchdown pass from Wiggins to Gibson and a 17-14 halftime lead.
“I felt we played pretty well in the first half, particularly on offense,” said Kaiser, “Davis threw the ball pretty well but we did have a few breakdowns as well.”
The second half saw the defense struggle and the offense sputter. Wiggins was ineffective through the air and was sacked three times, while the defense gave up some key third down and long plays and 14 points, first a 24-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter from Jackson to Ross Freeman and then a 3-yard touchdown run early in the fourth by Gabe Goodwin.
“I take full responsibility for the season so far,” said Kaiser, “I told the seniors there is nothing in the word I have wanted as bad as for them to get an opportunity to get to game 11. We came up short, and for that I promise that will stick with me for a while.”
This years seniors unfortunately become the first class since 1977 - 1980 to miss out on the postseason all four years, but despite that, coach Kaiser praised what this year’s seniors have meant to the team.
“This senior bunch, man I hurt for them,” said Kaiser, “Every one of them is hurting, like they should be, and defeat is suppose to make you feel that way.” but Kaiser added, “I tried to explain to them that what happened this season, and what happened tonight is mild compared to the kind of adversity they will experience in life, and the only time you are really beaten is the time you give up.”
Next up for the Blue Devils they wrap up the season on the road at Wayne County Friday night in Jesup.