It wasn’t a gut punch, but it hurt just the same.
The Statesboro Blue Devils have lost in heartbreaking fashion throughout the year. Friday night, the visiting Ware County Gators jumped out to a 21-7 halftime lead only to see the Blue Devils, once again, fight back to tie it up 21-21. But the Gators added a pair of touchdowns and didn't allow another comeback, claiming a 35-21 win at Womack Field.
“It was nip and tuck there,” said Statesboro High head coach Jeff Kaiser, “We just ran out of gas. Three turnovers against a good team will beat you every time.”
The turning point of the game came in the third quarter, after Statesboro (2-5, 0-2 Region 2-AAAAA) had tied the game 21-21. The SHS defense had seemingly held tough deep in their own territory, but the Gators (2-4, 1-0) faked a 26-yard field goal and were able to pick up a first down inside the Statesboro five yard line. Ware County then scored the go-ahead touchdown moments later, as quarterback Jeremiah O’Hara scored on a 1-yard plunge.
“That fake field goal was disheartening,” said Kaiser, “We had it stopped, we missed a tackle at the line of scrimmage, we just didn’t finish the play.”
The Gators were 4-for-4 on fourth down conversions in the game with each leading to a touchdown. In the second, facing fourth and 17, quarterback Jeremiah O’Hara hit Jacob Hendrix for a 28-yard touchdown to give the Gators a 21-7 lead.
“That’s been an Achilles heel for us this year,” said Kaiser, “Getting off the field in third and long and fourth down. Tackling is still our biggest problem, we have too many missed tackles.”
Trailing 21-7 at the half the Blue Devils started the third quarter as they did last week against New Hampstead. Tupac Lanier took off on the first play from scrimmage for a 59 yard run inside the Gator five yard line. Drayton Marsh then punched in in on a 2-yard run to cut the lead to 21-14. Following a Ware County turnover, Statesboro then tied the game 21-21 when Lanier took a 4th-and-1 handoff and broke a pair of tackles before getting loose for a 36-yard touchdown run.
“Our kids won’t quit, our coaching staff won’t quit,” said Kaiser, “They’ve had enough of losing, it’s just a matter of finishing, finishing games, finishing practices and putting a complete game together.”
Statesboro started the scoring on their opening drive, as Lanier took a handoff and went 59 yards for a touchdown to give Statesboro a 7-0 lead. The Gators then reeled off 21 straight points with a 29-yard Jordan Turner touchdown, followed by a 25-yard Raja’ Bradley score, and finally a 28-yard touchdown pass from O’Hara to Jacob Hendrix for a 21-7 halftime lead.
“We have to continue to work to get better,” said Kaiser, “You find out what you’re made of in adversity like this, and I feel they will respond next week.”
Raja Bradley piled up 213 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 33 carries, leading the Gator offense, while Tupac Lanier had 160 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries for the Blue Devils.
The loss drops the Blue Devils to 2-5 on the season, and more importantly, 0-2 in region play. Up next is a bye week for Statesboro followed by a home matchup with South Effingham on Oct. 27.