First Downs 17 18
Rush Yards 173 329
Pass Yards 96 11
Total Yards 269 340
Passing 9-21-1 1-1-0
Turnovers 1 0
Penalties 5-40 8-75
Rushing: WCHS: Bennett — 11-90. SHS: Summers — 14-121, TD
Passing: WCHS: Bennett — 9-21, 96 yds. SHS: Pennington — 1-1, 11 yds.
Receiving: WCHS: Lowe — 2-30 SHS: Fussell — 1-11
WCHS 3 0 7 0 10
SHS 3 14 7 0 24
3:26 — Rodriquez (SHS) 27 field goal
0:03 — Sterling (WCHS) 25 field goal
7:17 — Johnson (SHS) 9 run, Rodriquez kick
1:43 — Johnson (SHS) 12 run, Rodriquez kick
3:16 — Summers (SHS) 3 run, Rodriquez kick
0:19 — Tobler (WCHS) 11 run, Starling kick
For the second time in as many seasons, Statesboro is dancing its way into the GHSA state playoffs as a No. 1 seed and a region champion.
Playing in front of a raucous Womack Field crowd Friday night, the Blue Devils (10-0) jumped out early and never trailed, taking down Ware County (8-2) by a 24-10 margin and earning the Region 2-AAAA crown once again.
“I’m not going to lie,” said SHS coach Steve Pennington. “It feels pretty darn good. But what’s even better is that this is more than one game. It’s a pretty special thing to go undefeated in the regular season. That isn’t something that comes along too often.”
With the win, Statesboro advances to host Bainbridge in the first round of the state playoffs next week. Ware County will host Thomas County Central.
The Devils and Gators looked even on paper, but it was Statesboro that came out of the gates the stronger team.
Both squads punted on their first possession, but Michael Summers (14 carries, 121 yards, TD) ripped off a 68 yard run to the Ware 11 yard line and Alan Rodriquez opened the scoring with a 27 yard field goal to make it 3-0.
The Gators answered with a long drive of their own and Seth Starling tied the game with a 25 yard boot, but the Devils soon seized control.
Reid Pennington and Quan Daniels each had runs of over 20 yards on Statesboro’s ensuing drive, and Willie Johnson (15 carries, 68 yards, 2 TDs) ended the drive with a nine yard touchdown run.
“Our offense responded well tonight,” said Steve Pennington. “We scored on three of our four drives in the first half. That really set the tone for the rest of the ballgame.”
Johnson was one of the biggest heroes of the night — saving one of his best performances as a Devil for a big stage.
With Sherrodric Rawls out of action and Daniels still nursing an injury, Johnson started for the first time in his career.
“I was pretty nervous before the game,” said Johnson. “I thought I might be a little sick. But as the game went on, everything got a lot easier and I made some plays.”
Following Johnson’s first touchdown, Statesboro sniffed out a fake punt by Ware and gained possession again.
The Devils drove deep into Gator territory and Daniels converted a 4th-and-1 before Johnson took the next snap 12 yards around the left end to make it 17-3 at halftime.
Facing a Gator attack that was averaging 36 points per game entering Friday’s contest, the SHS defense continued to clamp down in the second half.
Lex Womack’s sack of Josh Bennett (96 pass yards, 90 rush yards) forced a 3-and-out on Ware’s first drive of the third quarter and Summers capped another methodical Devil drive to make it 24-3.
Showing their own determination, the Gators mounted a comeback. Ware raced down the field — Bennett leading the way both on the ground and through the air. With 19 seconds to go in the third quarter Xavier Tobler ran in from 12 yards out to pull within 24-10.
Statesboro couldn’t manage more points and punted twice in the fourth quarter, but the defense held strong.
The Gators marched to the SHS 7 yard line with less than five minutes to play, but on fourth down, Caleb Smith sacked Bennett to give the ball back to the Devils.
“He was running well all night, but we finally got him,” said Smith. “When I saw him looking at me, I figured ‘Oh boy. You’re not going anywhere’”.
Ware got its hands on the ball one final time, but Haydon Rollins broke up a deep ball and Reid Pennington hauled in the interception to clinch the region title for the Devils.
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.