(3) Statesboro (10-1) at (1) Griffin (11-0)
7:30 p.m., 102.9 FM
Statesboro renews pleasantries with a familiar postseason rival tonight as the Blue Devils take on Griffin in the second round of the Class AAAA state playoffs.
The Devils defeated the Bears at a neutral site — the Georgia Dome — in the 2005 semifinals and took down Griffin in the second round of the 2010 playoffs at Womack Field. This time around, the Devils will have to walk into hostile territory for the matchup.
Statesboro (10-1) made things look relatively easy in dispatching Cairo last week. Griffin (11-0) looked every bit as impressive in blanking Rutland in its playoff opener.
Battles between ranked teams will come at a fast and furious pace as the brackets whittle down. The Bears and Devils will start the trend as both spent the entire regular season in the Class AAAA top-10 poll.
“There are only 16 teams remaining and we don’t get to pick and choose who we play,” SHS coach Steve Pennington said. “We just know that we have to keep playing our best if we want to advance. There aren’t any easy wins out there this time of year, so all that we can do is focus on us.”
That introspection might be good for the Devils. Anyone choosing to study Griffin’s stat sheet could easily start to get dizzy.
Led by dual-threat quarterback Jaquez Parks, the Bears’ spread attack is averaging 44.2 points per game and has scored at least 34 points in all of its games so far. Parks has no shortage of weapons as receivers Chris Owens and Montico Dodson are explosive after the catch.
“We’ve faced a few teams with a receiver that we knew we had to account for on every snap,” Pennington said. “That isn’t how Griffin is. They aren’t afraid to go to any of their receivers. It’s kind of like defending the option, only downfield. We have to cover every assignment or else they’ll have guys getting open.”
Pennington also said that the Devils would have to be weary of the quick throws, calling the Bears the best screen team he’s seen.
Statesboro will look to use its relentless power running game to limit Griffin’s offensive possessions, but moving the ball consistently will be a chore against a Bear defense that is every bit as impressive as its offense with just 8.2 points allowed per game.
“Griffin’s defense is very similar to us in that they do a terrific job of getting to the ball,” Pennington said. “It seems like everyone is always right where they’re supposed to be.
“We need to be patient, but we also need to realize that with Griffin’s offense, we need to score points any time we have the opportunity.”
Much like the Bears, Statesboro’s offense has no shortage of weapons.
Juhwan Osborn has turned into a second downfield receiving threat as Joe Corless continues to come back from a sprained ankle. In the backfield, Zach Grant, Sherrodric Rawls, Daniel Murphy, Diquan Brunson and Anthony Curtis all have over 25 rushing attempts this season. Even quarterback Colin Chance got in on the fun last week as his 58 yard touchdown run helped to break the game open.
A win for the Devils will mean a trip to the state quarterfinals for the first time since 2010. Their second round victim that year was Griffin, which rallied late, but fell in a 34-28 thriller.
If the Bears fail to advance, it will mark the first time since the 2000-01 seasons that they have missed out on the quarterfinals in consecutive seasons.
The winner of tonight’s game will take on either Chestatee or top-ranked Sandy Creek next week.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.