The Blue Devils are just a few hours away from the first game of the 2015-2016 campaign. Statesboro High School’s football team will be under the bright lights of Paulson Stadium for the fourth annual Erk Russell Classic.
This is the second year the Blue Devils will take on rivals Burke County in the classic, which is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. tonight. The North Oconee Titans and Coffee County Trojans will also be featured in the Erk Russell Classic with a start time of 5 p.m.
The Blue Devils are set on rebounding from a 2-8 season last year. Head Coach Steve Pennington said the week of practice leading up to the big game has come with challenges.
Due to the Georgia High School Association rules regarding its heat policy, the Blue Devils have had limited practice this week.
“We’re excited to open the season in the Erk Russell Classic, but at the same time it’s very difficult to prepare for the unexpected. Not to burden the word experience, but that’s where experience serves itself very well. (Burke) knows what they’re doing, and we’re still young on the defensive side of the ball,” Pennington said. “We’ve practiced hard, but we’ve been interrupted by our heat policy. About three times this week.”
The Blue Devils young defense will be put to the test against the Bears. Burke County has an exceptional pass game, along with quality receivers.
Last year the Bears finished 7-5, including a 12-0 victory over Statesboro in the Erk Russell Classic. The Bears’ offense averaged 23.1 points per game compared to the Blue Devils’ 10.6 points per game
“They’re very good at their passing game, short and deep, and they have one of the premier wide receivers. We don’t matchup well so our guys are going to have to play assignment football and be very disciplined,” Pennington said. “The also run a great deal of misdirection and they have a big offensive line. They have a couple of 300-pounders on there and that’s a tough matchup.”
Before a Thursday afternoon practice, Pennington said he’s ready to begin the season on a positive note. Tickets for the Erk Russell Classic will be available at the gate for $15.
PATIENCE ON OFFENSE: The Blue Devils will have to exhibit some patience on offense versus a formidable opponent. SHS will likely ground and pound the ball against the Bears' 3-5 defense. Statesboro's Mahlon Williams has the ability to break one for big yardage, but the test will be running around Burke County's blitzing linebackers.
STRONG PASS GAME: Burke County has one of the top wide receivers in the area with standout Quantavius Wilson. The 6-foot-5 Wilson is listed at 178 pounds, creating a matchup problem for the Blue Devils' secondary. The tallest Blue Devil defensive back is just 5'9." Burke County's passing game will become a big factor if Wilson gets behind the defense.
O-LINE VS. D-LINE: The Blue Devils are relatively young on defense and Burke County's offensive line features at least two players listed over 300 pounds. In order to stop the Bears passing attack, Statesboro will have to win the battle up front.
Horace Holloman may be reached at (912) 489-9408.