Statesboro built a huge lead halfway through the third quarter, but had to avoid a furious Griffin comeback to secure a 34-28 win in the second round of the Georgia High School Association state playoffs Friday at Womack Field.
With the win, Statesboro advances to the GHSA quarterfinals for the first time since 2008. The Blue Devils will take on Kell (12-0) next Friday.
Since both teams are No. 1 seeds in the tournament field, a coin toss will be held today to determine the home team for the game.
Dequan Daniels (18 carries, 201 yards, 3 TDs) raced in from 56 yards out to give the Blue Devils (10-2) a 34-7 lead late in the third quarter, but the Bears (10-2) came storming back.
Griffin quarterback Tyler Hamm (18-24, 230 yards, TD) raced the Bears down the field on three consecutive drives to draw within six points, but the Devils hung on in the end.
"No matter what the outcome of this game was, I think people have to be proud of our team," said SHS coach Steve Pennington. "This is a team that keeps fighting and continues to find a way."
Early on, it didn't look like the road would be that tough.
Just as it had done in the opening game of the playoffs, Statesboro drew first blood. Griffin pooched the opening kick, allowing the Devils to go to work from their own 39, and three minutes later Trai Gadson strolled in from two yards out to give SHS a 7-0 lead.
The Bears recovered a fumble on the Statesboro 12 and tied things up at 7-7 late in the first quarter before Statesboro seized control in the second quarter.
Yakeem Coleman and Haydon Rollins each hauled in interceptions to get the ball back in the SHS offense's hands, and the Devils went on three long touchdown drives.
"We were expecting the points to come at a premium," said Pennington. "We were very pleased that our offense was able to get us out in front, and the defense did a good job of keeping us there."
Stunned by the avalanche of points, Griffin's potent attack was stuck spinning its wheels. The two turnovers - combined with a three-and-out and the sustained Devil drives - limited the Bears to just five offensive plays in the second quarter as Statesboro took a 27-7 lead into halftime.
Things looked to be all wrapped up after Daniels' third quarter score, but Griffin wouldn't go down without a fight.
Abandoning the running game, Hamm caught fire. Tight end Xzavier Dickson (10 catches, 140 yards) couldn't be contained by the SHS defense, and ripped off multiple big gains on short passes.
Quick scoring drives allowed Griffin to stay in contention, and after pulling within 34-28 with just over two minutes remaining, the Bears had the ball at midfield with a chance to drive for the win.
Hamm quickly moved the Bears inside the Statesboro 20, but senior defensive end Branden Williams got to Hamm and forced a fumble to give the ball back to Statesboro.
"Coach always tells us to be leaders on the field," said Williams. "That's what I tried to do. We were all tired, but I dug in for one more play and got to the quarterback, and the ball just happened to land right next to me."
Using its final timeouts, Griffin forced one more Blue Devil punt. In desperation mode in the final seconds, the Bears tried to go downfield on a double pass, but the throw - along with a Statesboro victory - fell into the hands of Michael Bowling.
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.