Challenged by their coach to finish a game, the Effingham County Rebels football team delivered an emphatic response.
Before an overflow crowd of 10,000 at Rebel Field, the Rebels held off their in-county rivals the South Effingham Mustangs 36-22 Friday night. The win was the first of the season for the Rebels (1-2) while the Mustangs slipped to (1-2).
“Most everybody didn’t think we were going to win this,” said Rebels senior linebacker Tavon Powell, who also had a critical interception. “We had a lot to prove.”
Cameron Edwards bolted through the Mustangs defense for a 30-yard run on a fourth-and-1 play with 38 seconds to go, sealing the Rebels’ win and giving Effingham the county championship trophy.
“This was my last game to play South,” said the senior running back. “It felt really good to get the trophy back in our possession.”
The Rebels led Screven County 21-13 last week, but the Gamecocks scored four unanswered touchdowns. The finish left Tomberlin frustrated. The Rebels trailed 22-20 after Josh Mercer’s second short touchdown run of the night and this time, they delivered the finishing touches.
Edwards fumbled at the goal line, but Hamilton dived on the loose ball in the end zone, putting Effingham ahead 26-22 with 6:50 to go. Cal Baker added the two-point run for a 28-22 lead.
The Mustangs drove to the Rebels 43, Powell picked off Brandon James’ pass to end the drive. Powell lost his grip on the football but fell right back on it before the Mustangs could close in.
“We were getting upset. They kept driving down,” Powell said. “We were arguing amongst ourselves. Our leaders had to tell everybody to calm down and play football.”
On the ensuing drive, Edwards crashed forward for a yard on fourth-and-1 at the Rebels 49, and he ended the drive with his 30-yard scoring jaunt.
“We were not pleased with the way we played against Benedictine or Screven,” Rebels coach Rick Tomberlin said. “We talked all week about being physical, about finishing. I think we grew up tonight.”
The teams traded touchdowns throughout the first half. Cordaro Leverette's 3-yard run capped a 13-play, 69-yard drive to open the game. The Mustangs took 7:13 off the clock, and Brandon James connected with an open Tyler Hagan for the two-point conversion and 8-0 lead.
It only took the Rebels two and a half minutes to respond, as Hamilton charged in from 19 yards out. Baker connected with Tim Pratt on the two-point try to tie the game.
Mercer’s 3-yard run with 3:38 remaining before halftime put the Mustangs up 14-8, but the Rebels tied the game again on Edwards’ 12-yard run with 1:46 left in the half.
Effingham opened the second half with a 13-play march of its own, culminating in Baker’s 1-yard TD run. Mercer’s 6-yard run on the second play of the fourth quarter tied the game again, the star Mustangs running back added a two-point run for a 22-20 lead.
That’s when the Rebels responded, driving 70 yards in nine plays, with Hamilton’s fumble recovery capping the possession.
“A tribute to their guys — they didn’t quit,” Mustangs coach Donnie Revell. “We missed some plays, we missed some tackles that we needed to make in critical situations. They capitalized.”
The Rebels outgained the Mustangs 220-76 in the second half.
For more, see Tuesday’s Herald.