The Statesboro Blue Devils have had to deal with quite a bit this season. Friday was the first time they had to deal with playing a football game, and at times it showed. The Blue Devils had the ball inside the Swainsboro 10-yard line with less than three minutes to go in the game, but a crucial penalty helped end the drive and a fumble on a Swainsboro punt was the final nail in the coffin as Statesboro fell 12-6.
Trailing 12-6, the Blue Devils put their first sustained drive together. A mix of short passing and runs got the Blue Devils down to the 13-yard line. On second and eight quarterback Ames Rackleff made a nice run down to the Swainsboro 7-yard line, but a holding call brought the ball back to the 18-yard line.
Statesboro would attempt two passes, but both fell incomplete, turning it over to their defense to give them a chance with just over 2:20 to play. The Blue Devils did a good job of holding onto their time-outs and managed to force Swainsboro to punt with just over a minute to play.
Tiger punter Elijah loyd had been shaky most of the night, but got off a good punt. The Blue Devils elected to put freshman speedster Kam Mikell back to receive the punt. Loyd got off a good punt, Mikell bobbled the ball, and was hit immediately and coughed it up. Swabisboro recovered, and then ran out the clock.
“We were in it till the end there,” said Statesboro coach David NeSmith. “Our kids are resilient and they fought till the end. I saw a lot of things I liked out there, and we definitely have room for improvement.”
Neither team was able to put up any points in the first half. The Tigers got close a couple times, but a missed 32-yard field goal and a turnover on downs from the 14 was as close as they’d get to points.
Statesboro was unable to move the ball, and the few times they managed positive yards were brought back due to penalties.
With the score tied 0-0 in the third the Blue Devils finally caught a break. Loyd bobbled a snap on a Tiger punt, and the Blue Devils knocked him down at the Tiger 23. A few plays later Blue Devil quarterback Ames Rackleff took off up the middle on a read option keeper, and went 19-yards for the score. The extra point failed and the Blue Devils led 6-0 with 8:40 to go in the third.
Statesboro held on defense, and on their next offensive possession the Blue Devils went for it on fourth and one from the 50 yard line. The Tigers stopped them short, on a play Coach NeSmith regretted in hindsight.
“I felt like our defense was cramping up, and I thought we could get a yard,” NeSmith said. “I regret that call, and wish we would have just punted, and pinned them deep.”
Instead the Tigers took advantage of the good field position, and marched downfield behind some completions to twin receivers Cedric and Fredrick Seabrough who have both committed to N.C. State. Capping the drive quarterback Lenox Lively hit Derrick Jones across the middle for a 21-yard touchdown. The extra point failed leaving the score 6-6 with 1:29 left in the third quarter,
The game remained tied until the Tigers converted on a couple third and long passes from Lenox to Seabrough. The Blue Devils forced Swainsboro into a fourth and goal from the 11-yard line, but Leox hit Cedric Seabrough just inside the near side pylon for what proved to be the game winner. The 2-point conversion pass failed for a 12-6 lead with 6:22 left in the game.
NeSmith admitted after the game it was tough to be without Coach Jeff Kaiser who is still recovering from his illness, but was proud of the team’s effort.
“I really thought we played hard, and I liked the effort,” NeSmith said. “These guys have played three games now, and this is our first. I feel like we can clean some things up and rebound next week.”
I was really impressed by our defensive effort tonight,” said NeSmith. “Offensively we have a lot of work to do, but next week we will get two of our starters on the offensive line back and I feel that will make a huge difference.”
Statesboro hosts Houston County next Friday at 7:30 p.m.