For two months, every Statesboro win has been mitigated by the fact that — due to a quirky Region 3-AAAA design — the Blue Devils weren’t any closer to reaching the state playoffs. Even as the Devils have run off eight consecutive wins and have climbed to No. 5 in the Class AAAA poll, the region championship and the state tournament have always seemed to be some far off speck in the distance.
That all changes this week.
While Statesboro still isn’t guaranteed a spot in the state playoffs, a win over Wayne County Friday night would punch its ticket. Even better, a ninth straight win would put the Devils in the region championship game next week with a chance to claim a top seed in the state tournament as well as their third region title in four seasons.
“We know what has to be done,” SHS coach Steve Pennington said following a 41-14 win over South Effingham last week. “We’ve been working hard to put ourselves in this situation since the spring. Now we’ve given ourselves that opportunity.”
A bit more drama
With few exceptions, the Blue Devils had breezed through their first seven contests. Up until its date with South Effingham, Statesboro hadn’t trailed since its season opener against Lakeside of Augusta.
The Devils surrendered a pair of second quarter touchdowns to find themselves trailing 14-7 at halftime against the Mustangs, but quickly bounced back. They scored on their first two possessions of the second half to retake the lead and South Effingham’s offense ran just two plays from the SHS side of midfield the rest of the night.
Early in the fourth quarter, a game that had once hung in the balance had already become a by-the-book point of business for the Devils to close out.
Defense coming up big
Statesboro grabbed plenty of headlines for its amped up offense early in the season.
New offensive coordinator Mike Daniels opened up the playbook and big plays — in both the running and passing game — highlighted the first half of the season.
The offense continues to churn out yards and points, but the Blue Devil defense is quietly having one of the best seasons of any Class AAAA squad. Statesboro is allowing the second fewest points per game of any team in the classification (8.6) and has surrendered more than one touchdown just three times this season.
“We’ve had to learn to play as a team out there,” Pennington said of his defense. “It’s good to have ability and talent, but we’ve gotten better as our players have gotten comfortable with one another. It’s good to be able to anticipate what the other 10 guys on the field will be doing.”
Statesboro now finds itself in a nearly identical situation as last season.
In 2012, the Devils entered their ninth game of the season against Wayne County with both teams boasting perfect sub-region records. Despite Statesboro holding the advantage in overall records, its loss to the Yellow Jackets cost it a chance to play for the region championship and also forced the Devils to hit the road for the first round of the state playoffs.
Friday will be an encore as both teams are again 2-0. Statesboro gets the home field advantage this time around and will need any good fortune it can get as Wayne will bring a handful of Division I prospects to throw at the Devils.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.