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Statesboro seeks first win against Phoenix
Tattnall County quarterback Craige Saxton, right, escapes multiple Statesboro High defenders in the backfield and heads upfield during a third quarter run Friday

Barely four days removed from being shutout by Ware County, Statesboro now faces their second region opponent in New Hampstead — who hasn’t played a football game since Sept. 23.
    Despite being more banged up than ever and playing on short rest, head coach Steve Pennington says he likes what he’s seen from his team in their limited practice time.
    “Has it been productive? Yes,” Pennington said. “Could it be better? Yes. But we are asking a lot from everybody. Our players, their parents and the whole works. Everyone is having to sacrifice because of the circumstances.”
    It’s not as if Statesboro’s the only team playing a wonky schedule, but that doesn’t alleviate the fact the Blue Devils are still out many good players.
    Center Chandler Dick is still out and won’t be back until South Effingham, and now the team’s leading tackler Chris Hill is out with an MCL injury.
    “We know it’s the MCL right now, but they haven’t said whether it’s sprained or torn,” Hill said. “I have an MRI Tuesday to find out for sure.”
    With all the adversity surrounding the team, Pennington emphasized how important his team’s intangibles are going to be for tonight. And by intangibles, he means heart and fight.
    “When coaches say to play with heart, this is one of those cases,” Pennington said. “We honestly have to do so tonight.”
    The silver lining in all this is Statesboro has technically already prepared for New Hampstead. Two weeks ago the Blue Devils were game planning to face the Phoenix and already had two days of practice and preparation under their belts before getting the news of Hurricane Matthew.
    On top of that, New Hampstead and Ware County run similar offenses and defenses — making Ware County a kind of warm up game for tonight’s contest.
    “We’ve pretty much seen the same stuff for two and a half weeks now,” said senior defensive lineman Connor McBride. “We have our base defense in place. I feel like we should be fine.”
    While Ware County and New Hampstead are similar teams in style, there isn’t much of a comparison in quality. While their opponents winning percentages are similar (Ware’s .705, New Hampstead’s .648) their point differential is not. Against their schedule Ware’s is -23, but New Hampstead’s is -88.
    The last game the Phoenix played in was over three weeks ago to a common Statesboro opponent: Liberty County. While Statesboro lost to Liberty 21-7 and was leading going into the fourth quarter 7-6, New Hampstead lost that game 55-12. When comparing transitive properties between the two games, some things come to light between Statesboro and New Hampstead.
    Statesboro averaged 4.4 yards a play against Liberty County, but New Hampstead averaged 5.8. Against Statesboro, Liberty County averaged 6.5 yards per play but then averaged a whopping 10.1 against New Hampstead. Zooming out, the yard differential was -2.1 for Statesboro and -4.3 for New Hampstead.
    “Keep in mind they have had a lot of time to prepare for us,” Pennington said. “They’ve had nothing to do this whole time but look for us.”
    Benefiting New Hampstead is their quarterback Calvin Turner Jr — yet another dual threat for Statesboro to deal with. The dual threat quarterback has been the achilles heel for Statesboro this season. Quarterbacks have rushed for 882 yards on 8.2 yards a carry and eight touchdowns on the Blue Devil’s.
    Throw in Statesboro’s opponent passer rating is 134.8, and any team who has a quarterback who can run and pass efficiently will have a chance. And New Hampstead does.
    “His real strengths are his elusiveness and his speed,” Pennington said. “And he’s a big kid too. So from that perspective we have to be disciplined on the defensive side.”
    Turner’s totaled 871 yards at 7.7 yards a carry and eight touchdowns, while in the air he’s averaged 10.9 yards an attempt with three touchdowns and three interceptions. And Turner will run out of many different formations, much like Ware County.
    “New Hampstead can do it all,” Pennington said. “Wing-T or power, we have to be on our P’s and Q’s on defense.”
    As mentioned earlier, New Hampstead’s defense is what’s gotten them burned this season. They’re giving up an average of 35 points a game and have given up more than 40 points three times in six games.
    And to the added benefit of Statesboro’s offense, New Hampstead’s defense is very similar to the one the Blue Devils see every day in practice.
    “They run the same base as we do, but any given snap you’re going to have pressure from at least four players,” Pennington said. “It’s a very aggressive team.”
    Luckily for Statesboro, their quarterback has hit his stride this season. Tupac Lanier has hit his season rushing high three weeks in a row now — going from 81 against Appling, 83 against Tattnall and 91 against Ware last week. Not only that, but he’s started to settle in throwing the ball too.
    In back-to-back weeks of really opening up the offense, Lanier has completed 64 percent of his passes for 5.5 yards an attempt.
    Add in his favorite target Wright Rockett, who makes a first down 52 percent of the time he catches a pass, and Statesboro has something their offense can hang their hat on.
    “Their defense will allow us the opportunity to throw it,” Pennington said. “But if we don’t run it properly we won’t be able to open up the offense.”
    In a game that has so many different and strange stipulations on it, there’s no reasonably predicting an outcome.
    But in a season that’s been so strange for Statesboro, perhaps a strange game is just what they need to break through.