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SHS rallies for win
Lester's late TD lifts Blue Devils
090310 SHS FOOTBALL 02 web
Statesboro High linebacker Branden Williams celebrates after tackling Washington County Savon Washington in the backfield for a loss in the third quarter. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

       In a game that promised to have two talented teams squaring off in a playoff-type atmosphere, this one more than lived up to the billing.
    Trailing 14-13 for much of the game, Statesboro dug in for one final drive. Facing third-and-20 with just under two minutes remaining, senior running back Aaron Lester plowed through two defenders and raced 26 yards for the deciding score in the Blue Devils’ 19-14 victory over Washington County Friday night at Womack Field.
    “We were confident, even when we were behind,” said Lester. “The O-line just kept telling us to get behind them, and they carried us down the field at the end.”
    Coaches often speak of overcoming adversity to succeed and grow as a team, and Friday was no exception for the Devils (2-0), who had to overcome costly penalties,
injuries to two key running backs, and a pair of turnovers in Golden Hawks (0-1-1) territory.
    “This team showed me a lot of heart tonight,” said Statesboro coach Steve Pennington. “I was very impressed by our boys. We knew it would be a tough fight, and nobody hung their head or quit when we got down.”   
    Just as it did in last week’s opener, the Statesboro offense got straight to work.
    Dequan Daniels returned the opening kick to the Golden Hawks’ 40 yard line and the Devils needed just seven plays and 3:39 of game time before Reid Pennington plunged in from two yards out for an early 6-0 lead.
    However, Washington County answered right back with a four play scoring drive capped by Jacob Kennedy’s 31 yard touchdown pass to Nick Sanders to put the Golden Hawks up 7-6.
    Junior running back Michael Summers struck back for Statesboro with a 56 yard run to the Washington County 1 yard line, but fumbled into the end zone for a touchback on the next play.
    Making matters worse, Summers injured his right ankle on the carry and was lost for the rest of
the game.
    The teams traded touchdowns on their next two possessions, but the Devils missed opportunities to gain the upper hand as Dequan Daniels fumbled – and was also injured – on an attempted fourth down conversion and Caleb Brown came up inches short on a 47-yard field goal attempt that left Statesboro trailing, 14-13 at halftime.
    “Things aren’t always going to go your way, but you have to keep fighting,” said Pennington. “Nothing came easy for us, and I give a lot of credit to Washington County for that.”
    In the second half, the Blue Devil defense rose to the challenge to keep the Golden Hawk attack in check.
    The defensive line was able to stifle the running game, and sophomore safety Yakeem Coleman hauled in an interception to bring a Washington County drive to a halt.
    “We’re still a work in process,” said Pennington. “They were able to gash us for some big plays, but we came up with enough plays of our own at the end.”
    Statesboro’s game-winning drive started in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter as the Devil defense forced a punt. Statesboro took over at its own 23 and began the long march to victory.
    With Summers out and Daniels still hobbled, Lester shouldered much of the load down the stretch.
    An ill-timed holding call negated a first down run by Lester to the Washington County 15, but the next play brought the final burst of offense for the Devils as Lester put his team ahead with just 1:49 to play.
    “I knew we could get it done,” said Lester. “That last play, I wasn’t going to let my teammates down. I saw the hole open up and wasn’t going to stop running, no matter what.”
    The Golden Hawks went three-and-out on their next possession, but were able to regain possession at the Statesboro 46 with three seconds to play. Statesboro’s defense was able to hold once more, dragging Delovein Haggins down at the 30 to end the game.
    The Devils now head on the road again as they take on Tattnall County next week in their final non-region matchup.

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