What a difference a season makes.
Statesboro entered fall camp just three months ago with more questions than answers. There was plenty of talent, but that threatened to be overwhelmed by the Blue Devils’ abundance of youth and lack of experience.
There were some growing pains along the way, but when the dust settled Friday night in Brunswick, it was Statesboro that was left standing atop Region 2-AAAA.
“We won the region Friday, but the reason for it came from more than just one game,” said SHS coach Steve Pennington. “We might not have the most talent of any team out there, but we are committed to working together as a team and getting better with each week.”
All of that work came to a head Friday at Glynn County Stadium as the Devils dethroned two-time defending region champion — and 2010 preseason favorite — Brunswick with a 21-14 overtime win.
Getting back to the top
Key to the Statesboro win was stopping the Pirates’ offense, which ranks in the top-10 in class AAAA in points per game.
The Devils’ offense kept Brunswick’s attack off the field for much of the first half. SHS put together two scoring drives of 12 or more plays and possessed the ball for 17:59 of the 24 minutes in the first half.
“Our offense provided a couple of key points in the win,” said Pennington. “Scoring on our first drive helped to set the tone, and driving 99 yards for our second touchdown ate up a lot of clock.”
Brunswick kicked into gear in the second half and was able to pull even, but the Statesboro defense came up with two big stops to save the game. Brunswick multi-purpose threat and recent Tennessee signee Justin Coleman was stopped inside the Blue Devil 1 on the last play of regulation and SHS stopped the Pirates a foot short of the chains on fourth down on Brunswick’s overtime possession.
“We really had to dig down,” said Pennington. “That second half was an emotional roller coaster. Brunswick is very tough to stop when they get going. The line between winning and losing is so small in this game. Those two stops at the end are a great example of that.”
X’s and O’s
The good start against Brunswick continued a pleasing trend for Statesboro. The Devils have faced a number of big games this season. They opened their season on the road at Brunswick, faced Greenbrier in what amounted to a knockout game for state playoff contention two weeks ago, and then faced the Pirates again for the region title.
In all of those games, Statesboro was able to come out of the gates hot and establish its game plan. The Devils have risen to the level of the moment they’re playing in all season — something that will need to happen on a weekly basis in the state playoffs.
“We were able to accomplish our goals in previous weeks, but now we have to move on,” said Pennington. “This week, we’re preaching perspective. We’ve seen that we can play with anyone and that we can win a region title, but we also have to remember what happened against Liberty County and Evans. It’s going to take more hard work on our part, or this could be a short playoff season.
Coming up next
With the region title, Statesboro has secured a No. 1 seed in the state playoffs.
Friday, the Devils will host Tri-Cities — No. 4 seed out of Region 4-AAAA — and will also get to host a second round game with a win.
Statesboro is 10-2 in its last 12 home playoff games and — depending how things play out going into the quarterfinal round — could remain in their own backyard until the final rounds.
“It’s always good to stay at home,” said Pennington. “The biggest benefit is that we can stay in our normal routine. We won’t have to leave school early or play in a stadium that we’ve never seen before. Maybe we can get a little Womack magic going for us.”
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.