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SHS, Portal, Bulloch Academy all in action Friday night
Statesboro High running back Elijah Wells, center, leaps through a hole in the Bradwell defense to score on a 16-yard run in the second quarter on Friday, Oct. 21.

Devils go up against region leaders

With two games remaining in the regular season the Statesboro Blue Devils could mathematically still finish anywhere from region champs to the No. 4 seed in the state playoffs.

The Blue Devils are 2-1 in region play and are coming off a 41-14-win last Friday against Bradwell Institute. “I thought our backs did a good job of making plays because we didn’t block too well up-front last week,” said Statesboro coach Jeff Kaiser. “We have now lost three starting offensive linemen this year and we are trying to get guys into positions they aren’t used to and that has been a process. The guys we have used to fill those spots are coming around but they are really going to have to be ready this week.”

The area Kaiser has seen the biggest improvement recently is on the defensive side of the ball.

“I was really pleased defensively by the way we attacked,” said Kaiser. “We didn’t react, we attacked. We got after them pretty good and registered the most sacks and tackles for losses than we have had in a game so far this year. We are going to do the same thing this week against a Ware County team that throws the ball a lot more than they run.”

Ware County is the last 5-A team in the state to be undefeated. The Gators come in ranked No. 1 in the state with a record of 7-0, 3-0. Ware has only really been tested one time this year in a 14-10 win over No. 2 ranked Benedictine. They have outscored their opponents by an average margin of victory of 33-7 and have outscored their last two opponents by a combined 92-0.

“There is no surprise they are the No. 1 team in 5-A,” said Kaiser. “We know what a task it will be and we are going to keep trying to get better and attacking and let the chips fall where they may. Our kids need to understand we can still win the region championship and it starts with beating Ware County this Friday night.'” On offense the Gators are led by junior quarterback Nikao Smith who has thrown for 1,227 yards and 14 touchdowns with only three interceptions. The run game is anchored by Dae’jeaun Dennis. The 6-1 200 pound back has rushed for 579 yards and six touchdowns.

“They have a transfer quarterback from Florida who has come in and done really well,” said Kaiser. “They have talented fast athletes all over the places that they get the ball to. We have to make sure we do a good job of staying in our assignments and try to limit big plays especially on third down.”

On defense the Gators have only allowed two touchdowns in two games. They have held their other five opponents to one touchdown or less.

“They have 10 starters back from last year’s defense,” said Kaiser. “Their linebacking group is as good as you will see on a high school football team. They run to the ball and are relentless. We have to try and sustain some drives and keep their offense off the field.”

Statesboro and Ware County was moved early in the season to this Thursday night but has now been moved back to Friday and they will kickoff at 7:30 at Womack Field.


Portal faces tough test vs. Buccaneers

The Portal Panthers already have more wins than they have had in years, but will have to win at least one of their last two games in order to make the postseason. The Panthers are coming off a much-needed bye week as they hope to have a few people back after losing seven players in the ECI game two weeks ago. 

“With a team the size of ours losing seven players in one game is something I have never seen before,” said McEachin. “Many of those guys play multiple positions so you really lose more than just seven guys. With what we were dealing with I thought it was important to just give our whole team the week off to rest and recover. We got a couple players back and will still be without a few but at this point we just must deal with that and move on.”

The Panthers still control their own destiny even though there are many scenarios in which they can make the postseason they at least have to win one of their next two games. They wrap up the season against Jenkins County and have 8-1 McIntosh County Academy coming to call Friday in Portal.

“It’s important for our team to understand that our destiny is still in our own hands,” said McEachin. “There are ways in which we can lose Friday and still make the playoffs, but our best opportunity is to just win these last two games and we could actually end up hosting a playoff game as the No. 2 seed.”

The one positive about playing the Bucs this week is MCA has already wrapped up first place in the region whether they win or lose Friday at Portal. The Bucs could decide to rest players or want to end the season with momentum,either way coach McEachin has to be ready for a battle.

“They want to just line up and play smash mouth football,” said McEachin. “They like to primarily run the ball and they have a few really good backs including Jareese Campbell who is averaging over 100 yards per game and has nine touchdowns. He is a load to bring down and we are going to have to make sure we wrap up and try and avoid giving up big plays.”

McEachin knows in order for the Panthers to be successful they are going to have to slow down a tough Buccaneer rushing attack and they will also have their hands full with a defense who is surrendering only 12 points per game.

“On defense they are extremely fast,” said McEachin. “They have speed at all three levels and run to the ball well. Our offense has had some issues with ball security and we are going to have to hold onto the ball and not turn things over. We lost our last two games because of key turnovers and we are stressing ball security this week in practice.”


Gators look to get back in win column

The Bulloch Academy Gators were 3-3 after six games but had been within a touchdown or less in all three losses. Over the past two games the Gators haven’t been close as they have been outscored by a total of 77-27. Injuries have played a big part of that skid but the Gators have also struggled with turnovers and had four in last week’s 42-20 loss to Frederica.

“These close games that we have been in could have easily swayed into the win column if we hold onto the ball or make a stop on defense,” said Phillips. “We have to do a better job of holding onto the ball and being sound on offense. We have had too many self-inflicted wounds lately.” The Gator offense has averaged 30 points per game, but the Bulloch Academy defense is allowing 30 points per contest. Phillips feels in order for the Gators to be able to compete the defense has to step up and show some improvement.

“At times I can see some steps in the right direction on defense,” said Phillips. “the trouble continues to be consistency and doing a better job of wrapping up and tackling.”

The Gators have two games remaining and in order to make the postseason have to win at least one of those games. The Gators wrap up the season at home against Pinewood, but this week they have to go to a muchimproved St. Andrews team who is currently 4-4.

“They are going to be very well coached as Kevin Prisant came over there from Benedictine,” said Phillips. “They run some of the same stuff they run at Benedictine with shotgun formations and the Wing-T. They won the state championship in basketball last year and they have six of those kids playing football this year which gives them a lot of athleticism. They may be the fastest team we have seen this year.” The key for the game could be how the Gators can contain the team speed of the Lions, and how well St. Andrews does against the unique tripleoption attack of the Gators.

“They say matchups can be the key to a win,” said Phillips. “Their offense against our defense is a mad matchup for us as we aren’t the fastest team out there. I like our chances offensively as I think we can score a lot of points. The thing is we just can’t overcome any mistakes. I think our kids are close and we just need something good to fall our way and I think that could turn everything around.”

Bulloch Academy and St. Andrews are scheduled for a 7:30 kickoff Friday night in Savannah.