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Up and running: Devils rally to beat Groves in scrimmage
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Statesboro linebacker Branden Williams, top, buries Groves running back Jordan Bulter during Friday's scrimmage game.

            It wasn’t too pretty, but at least Statesboro knows where it stands.

            The Blue Devils went under the lights for the first time this season in a scrimmage against Groves. Statesboro struggled at times and committed four turnovers, but still managed to pull out a 21-7 win at a soggy Womack Field.

            “This certainly wasn’t as smooth as we had hoped for or anticipated,” said Statesboro coach Steve Pennington. “We’re a little disappointed, but we don’t want to focus too much on the negative. It’s evidence of how much we have to grow, but we did still see some things that we liked.”

            Things got off to a rocky start for the Blue Devils.

            Two runs to start things off gained minimal yardage, but Statesboro fumbled away possession on the third play of the night. Under the rules of the controlled scrimmage, each side possessed the ball for four minutes regardless of scoring or turnovers.

            That gave the ball back to the Devils, but quarterback Reid Pennington was intercepted on the next play.

            “Obviously, we need to do some work to get the offense going,” said Reid Pennington. “Some of those just weren’t good throws. We just need to go back and look at all the things we did and figure out how to fix things before Brunswick.”

            Statesboro eventually drove into Rebel territory, but a 41 yard touchdown pass from Pennington to Dequan Daniels was nullified by a holding penalty.

            When the Devils took the field for their second possession, things went much more smoothly.

            Starting at the Groves 35, Statesboro quickly drove into the red zone and junior Michael Summers broke through for a two yard touchdown plunge.

            The Devils retained possession and nearly scored again as an open touchdown pass sailed just past the hands of Daniels as time ran out in the period.

            Defensively, Statesboro performed well against a quirky Groves offense.

            Relying almost entirely on misdirection, the Rebels utilized motion and often had two quarterbacks in the backfield ready to receive the snap from center.

            Several breakdowns in assignments led to big runs, but the Devil defense was able to limit much of the damage, allowing only one touchdown with just nine seconds remaining in the varsity’s second possession.

            “It was a little bit tricky,” said Steve Pennington. “We were concerned with our own defense, so that was something that we hadn’t really prepared for and some of our guys were unsure of their keys. The main thing we need to do is to be aggressive and continue to attack regardless of what the other offense is doing.”

            Ultimately, it was the Blue Devils of the future that provided the winning margin on the night.

            Freshman running back Diquan Brunson was explosive in his Statesboro debut, leading all rushers with 88 yards on just eight carries, including a seven yard touchdown run to give the Devils a 14-7 lead during the second JV possession.

            The JV defense also did its part for Statesboro, keeping the Rebels off the scoreboard and holding Groves to a total yardage of minus-3 on its second possession.

            “It was good to see how a lot of those young guys responded,” said Steve Pennington. “For a lot of them, it was their first time under the lights on a Friday. I was especially proud of our young backs. Running back is a position that we aren’t very deep in, so it’s good to know that our younger guys are stepping up.”

            The final two quarters saw the return of both varsity squads for a game-situation scrimmage.

            With heavy rain falling, offenses for both sides struggled to gain any momentum, and neither team could advance more than 10 yards into opponent territory.

            Statesboro still found a way to tack on one more score as a host of Devils burst through the Groves line to block a punt. C.J. Austin scooped it up and raced 38 yards for a touchdown with just over five minutes remaining in the game. Caleb Brown then added the extra point to bring the Devils to their final 21-7 margin of victory.

            “We like that we were able to overcome some of our mistakes, but we still have a long way to go,” said Steve Pennington. “We need to spend the next two weeks building some confidence and knowing that we’re ready to compete heading into our first game.”

            Statesboro now returns to the practice field for two more weeks before the regular season gets underway. The Devils begin their season August 27 with a road trip to defending Region 2-AAAA champion Brunswick.


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