It was a long time in coming, Donnie Revell admitted, but the memories of his first win as a high school head football coach undoubtedly will last for a lifetime.
The South Effingham Mustangs downed the Groves Rebels 17-6 Friday night at The Corral, giving the longtime assistant his first win and the Mustangs their first win of the 2010 campaign.
“It’s great. It’s exciting,” Revell said, still drenched from the water cooler his players dumped on him in celebration of his inaugural victory. “I’ve been in it a long time. It really means a lot.
“It’s good being wet for a change.”
Josh Mercer, who missed the first quarter after getting hurt in the fourth quarter of the season-opening loss to Jenkins, scored two touchdowns. South Effingham’s defense turned away three Rebels possessions that reached the Mustangs’ 30-yard line in the second half to preserve the lead.
South Effingham went 12 straight quarters without scoring a touchdown, a streak dating back to the last two games of the 2009 season, until Mercer found the end zone just before halftime.
Down 6-3, the Mustangs went in front to stay on a 10-play, 72-yard drive culminating in Mercer’s 16-yard TD burst. David Smith’s point after put South Effingham in front 10-6 with 1:41 remaining in the first half.
“Anytime you’re not fighting coming out, and with them getting the ball first in the second half, that was huge,” Revell said of the go-ahead touchdown as halftime approached.
That scoring drive came on the heels of Groves’ lone touchdown, a majestic 71-yard bomb from Chris Cutter to Juwan Johnson. Johnson got behind South Effingham’s secondary and waited for Cutter’s soaring pass before turning on the speed again for the big play.
“We gave it back on the quick play,” Revell said. “But they put it behind them and played good the rest of the night. With a football team like that, they’re going to have their share of plays with the kind of athletes they have.”
Revell praised defensive coordinator Chad Nighbert and the defensive staff for attempting to get the scout team to replicate what Groves does, especially with their speed.
“Trying to simulate what they do in practice all week was difficult,” he said.
A quick adjustment limited the Rebels’ deep strike capability after that. Groves had 43 of its 96 second-half total yards on a screen pass to Mark James, with Cordero Leverette making a touchdown-saving tackle. But the Mustangs held, and Groves turned the ball over on downs at the South Effingham 10.
“We got the corners to understand they have one responsibility— play deep, make them earn everything,” Revell said. “We were able to do that, eliminate the big play.”
Another Groves drive ended when Ashton Wilson missed a 36-yard field goal try. On offense, the Mustangs had back-to-back three-and-outs before a final scoring drive. After another fourth-down stop from the defense, the Mustangs offense marched 72 yards in six plays. Brett Scott keyed the march with a 39-yard romp, and Mercer scored from 3 yards out with 5:53 remaining in the game.
South Effingham also ran out the final 4:02 of the game to seal the victory.
“We had a little lull there for a little while and the defense responded,” Revell said. “And they took care of business at the end.”
South Effingham opened the game with a long march, going 54 yards in 10 plays and consuming 6:53 before Smith booted a 29-yard field goal. Smith later missed another field goal but had two touchbacks on kickoffs.
Revell also was happy with improved special teams play, a week after a kickoff return for a touchdown secured South Effingham’s fate.
“It was a great team victory,” he said.
Revell credited his coaching staff for its work in the days leading up to the Groves game.
“My hat’s off to them,” he said. “All week long, correcting the mistakes we made and getting the kids to play hard. The kids responded to us with extra conditioning. Our kids just did what they had to do win.”
The Mustangs finished with 229 yards, running for 220 against the Groves. Scott led South Effingham with 90 yards on 13 carries while Mercer, held to minus –6 yards on his first four attempts, finished with 77 yards on 16 carries. Trey Dorsey finished 3-of-7 passing for 9 yards.
“I love all my victories but being the first time ... all the players coming up and the hugs and congratulations, that means a lot,” Revell said.