No wins, no playoff — so where’s the motivation?
That’s where Statesboro finds itself tonight. 0-9 and out of the playoffs in a year where all they had to do was win one region game to get in, 1-9 would have ended their two year drought.
But last week provided the pinnacle of everything that has gone wrong for the Blue Devils in 2016. South Effingham was 0-8 last week, just like Statesboro, and statistically were the lesser team on paper. Mathematically, it should have been a win for the Blue Devils.
Instead, three aborted snaps on punts and gaping holes in a shaky rushing defense saw South Effingham win 21-7. Not only did it mean Statesboro would miss the playoffs for the third year in a row, but it would mean Statesboro would be guaranteed to suffer their worst season in school history.
“I think about all the guys who came before me, and all I want to do is play this game as well as I can for those guys who made this school great,” said senior Malik Prowell.
Now, Statesboro is purely playing for the pride of not being 0-10. Because it’s one thing to be the worst team in the history of a storied high school football program, but it’s another thing to be the worst and only winless team in school history.
“There should not be any pressure in our building,” said head coach Steve Pennington. “People aren’t giving these kids enough credit for the resiliency they have.”
That precious win still seems long off with Wayne County coming to town tonight. With notched wins over South Effingham (17-14) and New Hampstead (48-12), by transitive property Statesboro already has a loss.
But don’t tell that to the Statesboro players.
“If we don’t believe this can be done, it won’t happen,” Prowell said in reference to winning tonight’s game.
Confidence is key for games like these. It sounds like a cliche, but in these instances where there doesn’t appear to be any outside motivation for winning a game — confidence is all a team can ride on at this point.
“Most guys are drawing confidence by trying to play for themselves,” Prowell said. “I just want to make sure my four years here amount to something.”
Where does it come from? It’s tough to say. This team hasn’t done much in the way of inspiring confidence this season. Five times Statesboro has had a lead or tie going into the fourth quarter of games, and still this team stands 0-9.
That also happened in the first six games of the season. At that point it looked as if Statesboro actually had a chance to win the No. 2 seed in the region, with Wayne, South Effingham and New Hampstead being a combined 1-16-1 going into region play.
But like many of the fourth quarters Statesboro suffered in, the wheels fell off in the final part of the season. The Blue Devils have been outscored 90-23 in three region games with no real signs of improving.
“We are a different team from then to now,” Pennington said. “Injuries certainly haven’t helped us, escpecially when we don’t have an incredible amount of depth to begin with.”
Even with Davis Wiggins surprise return last week to man the quarterback position, Statesboro’s offense still looked out of sorts last week against South Effingham — a team that was giving up over 30 points a game going into last week.
More importantly though is having to deal with Wayne County’s offense. Wayne’s had great offensive games against two common Statesboro opponents: 38 against Appling and 48 against New Hampstead. The Yellow Jackets will gain a majority of their real estate from the air with quarterback Garrett Overholt, who averages 7.4 yards an attempt at a 61.4 percent completion clip.
It’s between the twenties where Wayne starts to focus on their rushing attack, particularly to running back MJ Fuller who’s scored eight times on the ground this season. And while Wayne’s offense isn’t a world beater by any means, it’s been good enough to potentially land them a home playoff game with a win tonight.
“They want momentum going into the playoffs,” Pennington said. “I feel like they’re going to come here ready to play their best ball.”
Statesboro’s defense was put in a difficult situation last week with a number of special team’s snafu’s forcing them in bad field position — but it doesn’t change the fact they’ve given up well over 6.5 yards a play over a nine game sample this season.
Consistently susceptible to big plays all season, Statesboro will need a cure from the heavens in order to get that season-long problem under control for the last game of the season.
“We have to make sure we keep everything in front, and force them to earn every inch they get,” Pennington said.
So it’s been no secret Statesboro’s 2016 has been a disappointment, but a win tonight may be the thing this program needs to try and soften that blow.