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#1 Ware County (7-0, 5-0) at Statesboro (2-5, 2-3)
7:30 p.m., 102.9 FM
RANKING? WHAT RANKING?: There’s no getting around the fact that Ware County is a very formidable opponent. With a 7-0 record and plenty of lopsided wins to their credit, the Gators are deserving of Class AAAAA’s top spot in the polls. That said, touchdowns and field goals count the same for ranked teams as they do for unranked teams. Statesboro must focus on the number on the scoreboard, not that little No. 1 preceding Ware County’s name in the rankings.
MOVING MOUNTAINS: A sticking point for the Blue Devils’ success — or lack thereof — in their losses this season has been a rough streak of running up against oversized linemen. Ware County won’t be any exception as the Gators boast a big size advantage on both the offensive and defensive fronts. The Devils won’t outmuscle the line, but sticking to assignments and keeping good form will give them a fighting chance.
THE LITTLE THINGS: Lost in the impressive shutout that Statesboro threw at Bradwell Institute last week were some smaller plays that didn’t show up in the box score. Stellar coverage on kickoffs and punts routinely saw the SHS defense taking the field inside the opponent’s 20. Ware is powerful, but any team’s offensive output will suffer if they’re made to travel the entire length of the field to score.
The Statesboro Blue Devils are coming off a pair of wins that have given them a spark after an 0-5 start to the season.
If the Devils (2-5, 2-3 Region 3-AAAAA) want to make it three in a row, they’ll have to clear a very high hurdle — and notch what would be one of the biggest upsets in the state this season.
A 7:30 p.m. kickoff is scheduled for tonight at Womack Field as top-ranked Ware County (7-0, 5-0) comes to town. The Gators have been mostly toying with their opponents so far. Ware escaped an early-season matchup against Coffee with a three-point victory, but has beaten every other opponent by at least 16 points.
“There is no doubt that Ware is a very good team,” SHS coach Steve Pennington said. “There are a lot of good teams and good players in the state. What separates Ware is their passion. They have plenty of athletic ability, but the passion they put into how they play the game is what makes them so tough.”
Statesboro’s biggest challenge — as it has been for much of the season — will be moving the ball and putting points on the board. While the Devils have clicked much better on offense over the last two weeks, the Gator defense is a different animal.
Not only does Ware boast a huge defensive front, but there is plenty of talent to go with the size.
Seniors Terrence Dukes and Rosheem Collins have each racked up eight tackles for a loss this season while the team has totaled five sacks and has forced 14 turnovers.
“It is just so imperative that we get something going,” Pennington said. “We can’t be concerned with doing a ton of things to confuse (Ware). We need to be boring if you want to call it that. We need to find something that will work and do it well.”
Offensively, Gator quarterback Xavier Hollman has tossed four touchdown passes, but the Gators stick primarily to the ground.
Partly due to a Wing-T attack that isn’t afraid to spread the ball around and partly due to plenty of blowouts that have gotten the second string lots of action, the Gators have six players with 140 or more yards of rushing.
“They cycle through a bunch of guys,” Pennington said. “Part of that is because Ware plays a few guys both ways. That’s where our defense needs to help our offense. If we can get Ware’s offense off the field, maybe some of those guys will wear down playing on the defensive side.”
The immediate threat of the imposing Ware County should be the Devils’ only concern at the moment. But for those on the outside looking in, there are still some playoff implications for the once floundering Devils.
With games remaining against Glynn Academy and Effingham County, an upset win and a clean run to the finish line — however improbable — would put Statesboro in line for a trip to the state playoffs.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9408.