The Statesboro Blue Devils are just one win away from claiming the Region 3-AAAA soccer championship.
The Blue Devils (12-2) hosted Wayne County Monday evening in a region semifinal matchup at Womack Field, scoring a goal in both halves and outlasting the Yellow Jackets for a 2-1 victory.
Statesboro’s win came as a bit of vindication with the Devils taking a win off the only team to defeat them in region play during the regular season.
“It’s always tough to beat a team for a second time,” SHS coach Nick Thrower said. “I thought that both sides played really well. It was pretty even for most of the night, but we made some good plays to get ahead.”
The Devils controlled the action for most of the first half, but weren’t able to dent the scoreboard.
Wayne County broke free for a close shot on goal 12 minutes into the action, but SHS goalkeeper Drew Funk read the crossing pass well and was ready for the ensuing shot that tried to catch him leaning towards the front post.
Late in the first half, the Devils finally broke through.
A foul was called 20 yards from the Wayne County net and Hector Angeles launched a low cross into the box. Senior Defender Owen Hancock read the ball perfectly and redirected a hard header into the back of the net for a 1-0 lead with 10:42 to play in the first half.
“Getting the first goal is always big,” Thrower said. “We knew (Wayne) wouldn’t give up, but it’s always better to be playing with a lead.”
The Jackets came out of halftime refreshed and began to dictate the pace while spending more time on the Devils’ half of the field.
Wayne threatened on several occasions, but strong play from Statesboro’s back line kept most of the danger away as Funk faced just six shots on goal.
As the game wore on, Wayne pressed more of its lineup forward, eventually setting up the counter attack that clinched the game for Statesboro.
After gaining possession off of a Yellow Jacket push, the Devils pressed upfield before drawing a foul 30 yards from the Wayne net.
Walker Paul Tedders stepped up to take the free kick and perfectly placed an arcing right-footed shot in the top right corner of the goal for a 2-0 lead.
With Wayne County selling out on offense, the Jackets were able to manage a goal at the 2:30 mark when Brandon Newkirk drove home a strike from 15 yards out. The Jackets continued to press, but the Devils didn’t allow another goal-scoring chance as they ran out the clock on their victory.
Wayne County will play South Effingham in the consolation game of the tournament.
Statesboro now advances to the region championship where it will host Richmond Academy Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.
The winner will notch a top seed in the GHSA Class AAAA state tournament while the loser will be a No. 2 seed.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.