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Swainsboro hosts Blue Devils

No. 5 Statesboro (4-1) at Swainsboro (2-2)
7:30 p.m., 102.9 FM

    Statesboro enters its final non-region game of the regular season looking to ride the momentum of last week’s 40-0 win over Butler, but will have a much larger hurdle standing in the way of another victory.
    The Blue Devils (4-1, No. 5 in Class AAAA) travel up the road tonight to Swainsboro to take on the Tigers (3-1). The matchup will rekindle the Mayor’s Cup rivalry for the first time since 2005. Statesboro won that meeting by a score of 35-0 during its run to a state championship and holds a 35-17-4 edge in all-time meetings.
    “It’s been a little while since we last played Swainsboro,” said SHS coach Steve Pennington. “I hope that our guys realize how great a rivalry this game has been over the years. Swainsboro is a great program. It’s unfortunate that we haven’t been able to play this game more often, but it will be a great challenge to resume the rivalry.”
    Swainsboro will be trying to claim a victory over the Devils for the first time since 2000 – the same year that the Tigers claimed their lone state championship.
    To claim a third consecutive victory in the series, the Devils will have to solve an offense similar to the type of attack that Burke County used in Statesboro’s only loss this season.
    The Tigers can boast a wealth of speed on the offensive side of the ball and take advantage of it by spreading the field. University of Georgia commit Deante Johnson will see time at quarterback and running back and is bound to pose a threat to the Statesboro defense.
    As tough as the Burke offense was to stop, Swainsboro throws in even more wrinkles.
    The Tigers will often line up with a pair of backs a few yards deep and just left or right of the center. The bizarre alignment allows either back to receive the snap and serves to add even more confusion to all of the moving parts of the spread run offense. In all, the Tigers have four players who will take snaps out of the alignment and at least two that will pull the trigger and fire a pass downfield.
    “To tell you the truth, I’m a little intrigued by that offense,” said Pennington. “I don’t know how often I’d want to try to stop it, but Swainsboro has certainly found a wrinkle that makes them very dangerous. It’s going to take a lot of patience and good reads by our defense to make sure that we’re going in the same direction as the ball.”
    For the Devils, the steady 1-2-3 running game punch of Quan Daniels, Sherrodric Rawls and Diquan Brunson has become a grab bag of any player healthy enough to carry the ball.
    All three of Statesboro’s regular starters were on the sidelines last week, but a combination of reserves and defensive players filled in to rack up 338 yards on the ground.
    Plenty of game-time decisions will be made tonight, but Pennington says that his team won’t stray from its plan to pound the ball on the ground.
    “I think that last week helped a lot with some new guys gaining confidence,” said Pennington. “It also built up a lot of trust with the coaching staff. Our ‘Blue Crew’ package of defensive players gives us more of a power running option and a lot of our reserve running backs showed that they can be counted on to do a good job for us when we call on them.”
    Tonight’s game marks the first time that the rivalry has come to Swainsboro since the 2004 season – a 20-6 Statesboro victory.
    Regardless of who takes possession of the Mayor’s Cup, both teams will ramp up the intensity next week in anticipation of the beginning of their region schedules.

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