Despite getting the best game of Tupac Lanier’s high school career, Statesboro couldn’t hold yet another fourth quarter lead in a 31-24 loss to Tattnall County.
“We’ve had a couple of tough losses but it seems like every week we’re staying in these games,” said junior wide receiver Wright Rockett. “We just have to keep the mindset that we can still get in the playoffs.”
Statesboro, riding their best offensive performance of the year, had a 24-16 lead in the fourth quarter after Lanier punched in a one-yard sneak to cap off a 12-play, 81-yard drive with 7:24 left in the game. Morale was riding sky-high, as once again it seemed Statesboro was destined to end their five-game losing streak.
“We made great progress in our passing game tonight,” said head coach Steve Pennington. “Tupac looked seasoned and we executed that part of the game very well.”
However, as the storybook had read over and over again for Statesboro -- Tattnall would have to strike back with a big play. After two runs to move Tattnall from the 21 yard line to the 38, Dobe Calhoun hit a 62-yard sprint up the middle of the line to score and silence Womack Field. Following the two-point conversion, the game was tied less than a minute removed from Statesboro being up eight points.
“I felt like we did better preventing the big play in the first half,” Pennington said. “We as coaches have to rally around these players and put them in the right responsibilities.”
Statesboro would try and right the ship from their own 34 with six-and-a-half minutes left to play. Following an eight yard run by Tyler Gordon and a 12 yard run by Drayton Marsh, Statesboro had a drive cooking in Tattnall territory.
The next play, Lanier had the snap fly over his head and it would be recovered by Tyler Gordon all the way back at the Statesboro 35. The faulty snap killed the drive, forcing Statesboro to punt with around 3:30 left in the game.
Caleb Dowden’s punt towered and hung over Tattnall return man John Luke Edenfield, who scooted underneath it and would let it fall between his arms and into the hands of Statesboro’s coverage team. It was a gift from the football gods -- giving Statesboro’s offense possession at the Tattnall 33.
With Dowden’s season-long field goal being 49 yards, all Statesboro needed to do was run forward three times to kill some clock and Dowden could have conceivably kicked the game-winner.
Instead, another bad snap -- eerily similar to the previous drive -- flew over Lanier’s head and back to the Tattnall 46. Then to make matters worse Statesboro was penalized with a false start, putting Statesboro further back to their own 49.
A play later, Statesboro run up the middle seemingly trying to kill some time off the clock. Out of nowhere, the ball came loose and a pile ensued -- and popping out of the pile untouched with the ball in hand was Tattnall’s Tayveon Brown, who scooted 51 yards for a touchdown.
The score froze the air at Womack Stadium. If a housefly flew head-first into the aluminum siding of the bleachers, it would have been heard resoundingly across the stands. For the fifth time in six games, Statesboro had blown a lead or tie in the fourth quarter.
Following a great kickoff return by Zach Pendegrass, Statesboro would only have 53 yards to travel in less than two minutes to try and salvage the game. Lanier looked like a four-year veteran quarterback driving the Blue Devil’s down the field, going 6-8 for 41 yards to bring Statesboro down to the Tattnall 16 with 30 seconds left.
Even after getting back-to-back five yard penalties, Lanier had brought Statesboro 16 yards from a tie. On a 3rd-and-10, Lanier completed a pass to Prowell in the middle of the field with 22 seconds left. With no timeouts left, Statesboro had to scramble back to the line of scrimmage, forcing a pay off with one second left and the option to spike the ball off the table.
Lanier got the snap, immediately had two defenders in his face and was dropped for a sack to end the game. Of all the losses Statesboro has ensued this year, this one hurt the worst.
“I don’t even know what to say,” Lanier said. “It’s just the same thing again.”
It’s a shame considering Lanier played the game of his life. From the quarterback position, he went 17-24 for 171 yards and no interceptions. On the ground he picked up a season-high 83 yards on just 12 carries and two touchdowns. His favorite target was Wright Rockett, who caught seven passes on 11 targets for 91 yards and four first downs.
“That wasn’t the game plan coming into this week, to pass this much,” Rockett said. “We knew we could throw because the cornerbacks were bailing. More importantly I thought Tupac played a great game today.”
Statesboro scored a season high 24 points, with 17 of them coming in the first half. The Blue Devil’s averaged 7.5 yards a play in the first half, with three of their four drives going for points. The first drive of the game ended in a mishandled pitch, which would in turn lead to Tattnall’s first score -- but Statesboro’s offense responded in ways they never had previously this season.
Statesboro’s second touchdown drive went 96 yards in 10 plays, with four of those plays going for over 10 yards. Lanier hooked up with Rockett for a 35-yard completion, the longest of the season for Statesboro, on that drive to set up the score.
On the second scoring drive for Statesboro, Lanier ripped off a 46-yard run to bring the Blue Devil’s down to the Tattnall 16. It was the longest run of the year for Statesboro, and even though the drive was killed by two penalties -- it was a surge of explosiveness unseen by the offense in 2016.
“We have to practice our butts off next week on what we thought we could do and it worked,” Rockett said. “Next week we just have to do the same.”
Statesboro (0-6) will try and capture their first win of the season as region opens up against New Hampstead (1-4-1) next Friday in Statesboro.
Former players gather to celebrate 2001 championship, McBride
Before things kicked off on the football field, Statesboro’s 2001 state championship team gathered in the high school’s media center to eat and reminisce about the good times and their fallen teammate, Chester McBride.
“A lot of the guys on this team never fought back when I worked with them, they always did what they needed to do,” said Howard Busby, the head coach from the 2001 team. “I never had discipline problems with these guys. The community surrounding these guys was amazing.”
Players came from all over to take part in the reunion, including former all-state offensive guard Harrison Palmer -- who took a break from skiing down slopes in Colorado to be a part of the celebration.
“I really thought it was important to be here because of Chester,” Palmer said. “Chester was just a really solid guy, He always had a positive attitude, just a guy you always wanted to have around.”
Jason Studstill, who played center, flew in from even further out from Seattle, Wash. to come back and take part in what he missed back in 2011 from the 10-year reunion.
“I haven’t been back here in 15 years, so it’s a reunion in more ways than one,” Studstill said. “It’s even better to show off how much Chester meant to us as a teammate.”
The group of 20 plus players would gather at midfield for a halftime ceremony, where Chester’s white jersey -- worn in the title game -- was presented to his family and his navy jersey was presented to the school where it will be hung for students to see for years to come.