The games take on a whole new level of importance for Statesboro tonight as the Blue Devils play their third consecutive road game against Lakeside, Evans in the sub-region opener for both teams.
Statesboro was riding high through the opening weeks of the season. Impressive road wins at Brunswick and Tattnall County and a comeback win at home over Washington County earned SHS a No. 10 ranking in the state poll, but the Devils ran into all kinds of problems last week, committing four turnovers in a 29-0 loss at the hands of Liberty County.
“We haven’t done too much different this week just because we’re coming off of a loss,” said SHS coach Steve Pennington. “We still have the same routines. Hopefully, last week will serve to make sure that we’re a little more focused and better prepared from now on.”
Getting off to a good start in sub-region play will be key for the Devils. In the new alignment of Region 2-AAAA, each team will play five sub-region games. The records in those games will determine the final standings and the top three from each sub-region will compete in a play-in game in the final week of the regular season for a chance to win a spot in the GHSA state playoffs.
“Winning these region games is obviously a goal for us,” said Pennington. “That’s not necessarily how we talk about it though. Tonight’s game is important not only because it’s a sub-region game, but because it’s the only game that we get to play tonight.”
A win tonight would also allow the Devils to serve up a little revenge.
Statesboro traveled to Lakeside last season for the first round of the state playoffs and the Panthers sent the Devils home much earlier than they’re used to with a 16-0 loss.
This season, Lakeside is just 1-3, but that record is a bit misleading. Thomson, North Augusta, S.C. and Northside, Warner Robins have dealt losses to the Panthers, but all three figure to be playing well into November.
“We know that Lakeside is a very good team,” said Pennington. “They are very proficient in running their spread offense and can get the ball to all of their playmakers. Defensively, they still have that big line from last year. They shut us down, so we’ll have to do a much better job at the line of scrimmage this time.”
Statesboro’s offense, which struggled greatly last week, could get a boost as running back Michael Summers should return to action. The junior was leading the team in rushing before injuring his right ankle in the first half of the Washington County game.
With a win, the Devils could build some much-needed momentum as they return home for the first time in almost a month to take on Effingham County next week.
“Lakeside will be tough, but we’re very confident in ourselves,” said Pennington. “We had a rough one last week, but we have to put it behind us and move on. Liberty County beat us once, but the important thing is to refocus this week so that they don’t beat us again.”
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.