The time is now for the Statesboro Blue Devils as the team gets set to take on Lakeside High School in the first round of the GHSA soccer state playoffs.
Coming off a 2-0 loss to Glynn Academy in the 3-AAAAA Region championship, the Blue Devils are back to full strength.
SHS head soccer coach Nick Thrower said the matchup between the Blue Devils and Lakeside may come down to who wants to win more.
“Everything that we’ve done before doesn’t matter,” Thrower said. “Now the message is, how long do we want to practice? How long do we want our season to continue? I think we have a very good matchup against Lakeside. It’s going to be a competitive game and desire of who wants to show up to practice the next day is going to be important.”
Statesboro’s team is stronger than they were in previous years, Thrower said. The Blue Devils have a little bit of familiarity with Lakeside as the two shared Region 2-AAAA together.
The last time SHS faced the Panthers in a region contest was in 2012 when LHS topped Statesboro 5-0. The Blue Devils faced the Panthers once again in a non-region contest the following year, losing 1-0.
However, the past will be irrelevant in the first round of the state playoffs. When the Blue Devils host the Panthers at Womack Field today, Lakeside will be facing a much different team than in previous matchups.
“We are a different team than when we played them so many years ago, competitively, and I think that’s advantage us. I don’t think [Lakeside] knows exactly what to expect from us,” Thrower said. “Our play style has changed. When we played Lakeside in the past, we differently respected the fact that we thought they were better than us. Now, we feel confident enough to play them straight up and just play soccer. We’ll see what happens from there.”
Thrower said the “old” style of Statesboro soccer versus Lakeside was to play 11 back and counter attack. That won’t be the case today.
The Blue Devils will get some key components back such as center defensive midfielder Uche Okafor. Okafor will play once again after an arm injury sidelined him for a stint.
“We’ve got one of our main midfielders back, Uche [Okafor]. I think he’s going to be a main contributor in the midfield and with balls in the air,” said teammate Ryan Miller.
Miller, a senior this season, has helped anchor a very solid back four defensive unit for the Blue Devils.
“Defensively, I think we’re in a really solid position right now. The back four has started almost every game together,” Miller said. “I can’t really say defense unless I mention our goalkeeper Kyle Altman. He’s made some tremendous saves this year. I think our back four needs to come out early and set the tone against Lakeside. If we can score early and get our goal scorer Alex Wagner going, I think it will be a fun night in Statesboro.”
Miller said if the Blue Devils and come out strong and score early, it could bode well for Statesboro.
In the last six games, Statesboro’s defense gave up just two goals. Both goals were scored by Glynn Academy.
“We’re coming into this game pretty confident,” said center attacking midfielder Mercer Tedders. “I don’t think we have many doubts. We feel like we’re going to win. We’re just going to go out and do our best, try to win and move on to the next round of state.”
Tedders agreed setting the tone early for Statesboro could give the Blue Devils a matchup advantage.
“The scouting reporter for them was two very consistent center-backs. If we go up early, one of their more consistent center-backs may move to the midfield and may give us an advantage,” Tedders said.
Lakeside and the Blue Devils will square off today, at Womack Field, at 6 p.m.