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Statesboro welcomes rival Wayne County

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7:20 p.m., Friday
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Wayne County (0-2) at Statesboro (0-1)
7:30 p.m., 102.9 FM
Womack Field

Game Plan
    WILL HE, OR WON’T HE?: Wayne County has a potential ace up its sleeve in transfer senior quarterback Nick Belz. The 6-foot-4 pocket passer has been sidelined with an injury so far this season, but is questionable for tonight’s game.

    GETTING OFFENSIVE: For a team that is used to imposing its will on opponents, Statesboro was thrown for a loop when its power running game was held to just five first downs against Burke County. Regardless of the defense’s performance, the chains (and the scoreboard) need to start moving if the Devils want to win.

    COVERING ALL THE BASES: Despite its 0-2 record, Wayne County remains a dangerous offensive team. A big, strong offensive line will look to establish the run. If the front seven of the SHS defense need help in the running game, the Jackets’ play-action passing could be a game-changer.

    With 13 days gone by since Statesboro’s season-opening loss in the Erk Russell Classic, the Blue Devils are looking forward to a fresh start.
    The loss will stay with them throughout the season, but the Devils (0-1) will begin anew tonight as they host Wayne County (0-2) in their home opener at Womack Field.
    “Honestly, the Burke loss almost seems like last season,” SHS coach Steve Pennington said. “It seems like it was that long ago. I think we’ve done a good job of putting the loss behind us while improving on some of the things in that game that concerned us.”
    In addition to getting its first win of the season, Statesboro will also be trying to snap a personal two-game losing streak against the Yellow Jackets.
    In each of the last two seasons, Wayne County defeated the Devils in the regular season finale, denying them a chance to play for the region championship or the opportunity to host a state playoff game.
    But revenge has never been high on the Devils’ priority list. And with the two schools no longer in the same region, tonight’s game is all about improvement.
    “We’ve used the off week to work on fundamentals,” Pennington said. “There are lots of little things we saw in the first game that we have to get right. Once we do that, the big things (like points and wins) will come.”
    Much of Statesboro’s struggle in the Burke County game stemmed from breaking in lots of young new starters — a situation that the Jackets can empathize with.
    Wayne quarterback Malique Jackson — thorn in the side of SHS in each of those Jacket wins — is now at Florida State. Also gone is current Wisconsin receiver Krenwick Sanders.
    The Jackets have also felt the sting of heavy graduation losses, dropping lopsided contests against Glynn Academy and Appling County in their first two games.
    Both teams are waiting on new stars to emerge, but some things will remain the same.
    “Wayne definitely hasn’t lost any size,” Pennington said. “They have some huge guys on the defensive line. We asked a lot of our defense in our first game. We need our offensive line to occupy some of those big guys to make sure we don’t have to rely on our defense too heavily again.”
    Statesboro should receive a boost as three offensive linemen return after sitting out the opener with injuries. Brannen McBride, Nick Richardson and Nick Hulsey will add extra size and experience that was sorely missed as the Devils struggled to establish their running game in the opener.
    Tonight’s game will serve as Statesboro’s final tune-up before the Region 3-AAAAA schedule cranks up. The Devils will have another bye week next Friday before playing their final eight games inside of the region — all of them counting towards Statesboro’s playoff hopes.

    Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.