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SHS pounds Panthers
Statesboro High's Michael Dixon, top, forces a fumble by Liberty County's Jaleel Gilbert during a punt return on a well-timed hit during the first quarter Friday.

It may be only two games into the season, but it looks like Statesboro may be back. On the heels of a 7-3 victory at Greenbrier, the Blue Devils welcomed in a highly touted Liberty County team and whipped them pretty soundly for a 23-6 win.

“These kids have really bought into what mental toughness is all about,” said Statesboro coach Jeff Kaiser. “We finished, we finished it the way we are suppose to. This is the way things are suppose to go at Statesboro High School,”

Once again it was the Blue Devil defense leading the charge. Liberty came in featuring one of the state’s top running backs in Kris Coleman, who was coming off a 350 yard five touchdown performance. The Blue Devils held him to only 93 yards and held the Panther offense to just 124 yards of total offense.

“Our defense came ready to play once again, and never hung their head,” Kaiser said. “Liberty made an adjustment in the third quarter, but we came right back and countered that move, and I’m so proud of them, and our entire coaching staff.”

The Blue Devil offense, who struggled mightily last Friday, rebounded nicely as they finished with 209 yards of total offense, including their first passing play of the season - which resulted in a touchdown. The Devils delivered the dagger late in the fourth quarter with a 74-yard Davardrion Lipsey touchdown run.

“Our offense line, who played pretty bad last week, really responded well tonight,” Kaiser said. “I know people want us to throw the ball, but I think we are running it pretty well.”

The Blue Devil defense came up with the first points of the game, which was set up by the special teams. A Hunter Saussy 48 yard punt pinned the Panthers on their own five yard line. Two plays later Dake Williams wrapped up Coleman in the end zone for a safety.

“Hunter Saussy is just a tenth grader, but he has ice water in his veins,” Kaiser said. “He punted great and he typifies what we want out of all of our players.”

More solid defense set up the SHS offense with a short field, prompting a 12-play, 47-yard drive capped off by a two yard McCullough touchdown for a 9-0 lead with 4:22 left in the half.

Coleman was finally able to find some room to run early in the third quarter, and it proved costly. On the second play from scrimmage of the third quarter Coleman shot up the middle, and showed off his 4.4 40 yard dash speed as he went 50 yards for the touchdown. The two point conversion failed and the lead was cut to 9-6.

Later in the third the Panthers were dealt a serious blow as quarterback Dionte Bowens was hit hard by Statesboro’s Brendan Jackson and suffered a knee injury. He would not return.

The Statesboro special teams then came up with a blocked punt by Sage Reese, which gave the offense the ball on the Liberty 22 yard line. Facing a fourth and four the Blue Devils threw the ball for the first time this season, and quarterback Drake Horton made the most of it, connecting with Chris Hill, who did an outstanding job of getting his feet in the end zone.  The 15 yard score made it 16-6 Statesboro with 3:46 left in the third.

The defense continued to dominate and Lipsey’s late outburst sealed the win.

The emotional game was capped off by an emotional moment after the game as coach Kaiser handed out his first ever game ball to O.J. Watson who was recently diagnosed with leukemia.

“He’s a tenth grader and is a part of our team whether he’s out there or not,” Kaiser said. “He’s got a hard battle ahead of him, and I feel like our kids were as excited to see O.J. out here tonight as they were to win this game.”

The win improves the Blue Devils record to 2-0 for the first time since 2013. Statesboro hits the road again next Friday as they travel into the heart of Georgia to take on Veterans.