By CHRIS STANLEY
For the first time this football season, the Bulloch County public schools had something to smile about.
Portal didn’t endure a loss, because that’s what happens on a bye week and may just be the thing to get the Panthers back on the right track. Bulloch Academy got to celebrate similar pleasures on their bye week and still stand with the best record in the county at 2-1-1.
Southeast Bulloch finally nabbed a 42-8 win over Islands, putting them on the fast track of their first region title since Bill Clinton’s first presidential term. And then there’s Statesboro.
Statesboro suffered what had to be their toughest home loss in a while last Friday against Effingham. Up 16-7, Statesboro would lose in a 13 point-swing 20-16 even while playing a running back at quarterback. There were plenty of positives to come out of the game, but coming out 0-4 is going to be tough to recover from.
As mentioned above, the loss for Statesboro was really the story of the week. The game had a little bit of everything: a defensive score, a comeback, a running back against the odds and a controversy on the final drive.
Statesboro’s defense took a trip back to the days of Justin Houston and Deangelo Tyson by scooping up a botched pitch by Effingham and taking it to the house to go up 16-7 and stirring Womack Field into a stark-raving frenzy. It seemed as if the football gods had finally looked favorably on Statesboro in 2016.
But little by little the same story slowly began to unfold as Effingham running back Toot Johnson started to run wild, forcing missed tackle after missed tackle enroute to a 193 yard night. Meanwhile, Statesboro was trying to hold on with running back Tupac Lanier playing quarterback in place of the injured Davis Wiggins.
Grading on a curve, Lanier did about as well as he could playing a position that has proven itself near impossible to prepare for and play on short notice. He handled the whole situation with class as the final play on offense for Lanier just wrapped the bow on a truley weird game.
With two receivers left, a single wide on the right and a wingback split left, Statesboro went for a heave downfield with four vertical routes on 2nd-and-9 with just over a 1:40 left in the game. The problem? Not only was Wright Rockett, Statesboro’s best receiver, not on the field — Lanier said he wasn’t told what the read was on the play.
Even worse, Statesboro had three timeouts to try and get Rockett on the field — but to dwell on those mistakes would be a hindrance for a team still seeking their first win. There will be a lot to think about with Appling County on the horizon this week.
The hard times may be no more for SEB this season after getting their best competition out of the way in the non-region slate. Even when the Yellow Jackets were struggling to beat giants like Richmond Hill and Benedictine, SEB was still strong with what they do best — running the football.
Through three games SEB had rushed for 749 yards, which would be good enough to be ranked 19th in the country if SEB was an FBC college team. At 5.6 yards a carry, not only does Southeast Bulloch run the ball efficiently but they can hit the big run as well with three players averaging over eight yards a carry this season.
The rushing attack paved the way for 42 points on Friday night, more than three times the high SEB has scored in 2016. Granted, you need to adjust for the opponent here in Islands — but SEB did what good teams do and that’s put away bad opponents with no doubt left.
To go along with 230 yards at 5.5 yards a pop, SEB found a nice surprise through the air in quarterback Caleb Carter. After looking stellar in the preseason, Carter fell back to earth in SEB’s first two games but came back with 14.0 yards an attempt on just 10 passes. If SEB can combined a deep passing game with their run-heavy offense — the Yellow Jackets have a legitimate shot at winning a playoff game for the first time in over 40 years.
As mentioned earlier, Portal didn’t play last week — which is probably the best result they could have considering their slow start. A week off and another two weeks to prepare for 3-1 Wheeler County may be just what the Panther need to sort out an offense that’s only scored three offensive touchdowns in three games.
Senior Jake Brown has been the quarterback for the first three games, and while Matt Smith has stood firm behind him as his starter — it may be time to look at adding in the intriguing, athletic sophomore Connor Washington into the mix a little bit more. Shaking things up couldn’t hurt with a team that’s had nine turnovers in three games.
BA continues to be the class of the county at 2-1-1 following a big 34-7 win over Thomas Jefferson and a bye week to get rested. Funny as it is, this was the first bye week the Gator’s have had since Terence Hennessy was hired as head coach — so it will be interesting to see if this week off will make a difference in team performance.
BA has been propelled by running back Jake Mock’s stupidly good explosiveness (9.9 yards a carry) and an effective defense lead by all-region performer Tyce Lovett. With their remaining opponents combining to be 15-10, keep an eye on the Gators to see if they can keep this same, explosive pace.
Chris Stanley may be reached at (912) 489-9408.