Wayne County (7-1, 2-0) at Statesboro (8-0, 2-0)
7:30 p.m., 102.9 FM
You can throw the records out when Statesboro and Wayne County get together tonight at Womack Field.
And that’s not meant as a cliché.
Both teams enter with impressive marks. The Blue Devils are 8-0 and ranked fifth in Class AAAA while the Yellow Jackets are 7-1 and just outside of the state top-10 poll. But after tonight, only the winner will have a shot at the Region 3-AAAA championship and a home game in the state playoffs while the loser will face a play-in next week just for the right to move on to the postseason.
The Devils know the stakes all too well.
These teams locked up last season with the same reward on the line. Statesboro lost a 37-20 decision, then was forced to open the state playoffs on the road where it lost in the first round.
“We know what’s on the line, but that isn’t what is motivating us,” SHS coach Steve Pennington said. “Our goal each game is to play to our potential. It certainly isn’t to get revenge for last year.
“Winning or losing will have things that come along with it. We’ll gladly accept a chance to play for the region championship with a win and we know that we’ll have to win a play-in game if we lose. That’s not what we’re focused on though. We’re focused on playing our best game.”
To take down the Yellow Jackets, nothing less than a full effort from the Devils will do.
Wayne County returns much of the same roster that defeated Statesboro last season — most notably senior quarterback and Florida State commit Malique Jackson.
Jackson rushed for 153 yards and passed for 136 last season and has been the driving force for the Jackets the last three seasons.
Mobile quarterbacks were Statesboro’s Achilles heel last year, but the Devils have been much stingier this season. Statesboro bottled up Burke County’s Donquell Green last month and this year’s bigger, faster front seven has its eyes set on doing the same to Jackson tonight.
Even if Statesboro succeeds in limiting the run game, the secondary will have to be on its toes as Krenwick Sanders and Warren Washington are dangerous deep threats for Jackson’s big arm.
“We need to be very mindful of Wayne getting its athletes in space,” Pennington said. “(Jackson) can extend plays and Wayne loves the vertical game. We need to make sure that no one is getting behind us.”
Statesboro will combat Wayne’s attack with its own efficient offense.
The last few weeks have seen opponents drop an extra man into coverage to stop the Devils’ vertical passing attack. There haven’t been as many big passing plays, but Statesboro has countered that by getting back to its power rushing attack.
In order to work the ball downfield either way, the Devils’ offensive line will have to hold back an oversized Wayne defensive line led by 6-foot, 320-pound Da’marion Vail.
“I’m sure that we’re going to be tested,” Pennington said. “We got tested last week when we were trailing against South Effingham. One of the good things about our team is the mental toughness and maturity our guys have. We’re going to need that tonight.”
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.