The Effingham County Rebels, behind a punishing ground attack, held off in-county rival South Effingham 22-8 Friday night before an overflow crowd at The Corral. With the win in the non-region football game, Effingham improved to 2-1 while South Effingham fell to 2-1.
"It’s just fantastic beating South Effingham," said senior offensive lineman Cheyenne Hunt. "We controlled the line of scrimmage, every one of us. The second half, we came out there and we were physical and we just pushed the line of scrimmage back."
His offensive line’s work throughout the night — after amassing 282 yards rushing combined in the first two games — wasn’t lost on first-year coach Buddy Holder.
"Our offensive line showed what they are capable of tonight," he said.
The Rebels ran for 304 yards and finished with 412 total yards. They also chalked up 18 first downs and held the ball for 27:43, limiting the number of possessions for South Effingham’s up-tempo, no-huddle offense.
"They shortened the game, and they did a great job with what they were trying to do," Mustangs coach Donnie Revell said of the Rebels. "We had some chances on some plays, and we didn’t make them when we had a chance to make a stop. With them being able to control the football, it kept it out of our hands. Anytime we don’t have the ball, it puts pressure on our kids trying to make plays."
Effingham County set the tone on the first possession of game, driving from its own 26-yard line to the Mustangs 18 before Keith Jackson broke up Kemaun Tillman’s fourth-down pass to Ashton King.
The Rebels went 76 yards on 13 plays on their next possession, chewing up 5:59 off the clock before Nieem Bartley barged into the end zone from 2 yards out. Beaman King’s point after gave the Rebels a 7-0 lead.
Effingham’s quick strike capability led to the next score. Ashton King took Kemaun Tillman’s short pass and shot 85 yards down the sideline with 8:52 to go in the first half.
"Ashton made a couple of moves and extended the play," Holder said. "We’ve got a couple of players who can do that."
Set up by Kareem Taylor’s kickoff return and a personal foul, the Mustangs answered immediately. Tyler Pullum’s 35-yard connection with Tyler Hagan converted a fourth down, and the Mustangs converted another fourth down as Corey Horne powered in from the 1-yard line with 4:29 remaining in the half. Pullum added the two-point conversion to cut the lead to 14-8.
"It was a 14-8 game at halftime, and we had the ball coming out of halftime," Revell said, "so we felt like we were still in it, even though they were controlling the clock."
But Effingham’s defense limited South Effingham’s rushing offense to 30 yards on 23 attempts. The Rebels defense also recorded three sacks. Effingham’s offense finished the first half with 233 total yards and 11 first downs.
"We really felt like if we could line up and play physical, that we had the ability to run the clock the way we wanted to," Holder said. "It worked out in our favor. Our best defense can be our offense if we control the ball and keep the chains moving. That’s what our mantra is."
The Mustangs stopped the Rebels’ first drive of the second half, holding on fourth down at their own 14-yard line, before Casey Warner delivered the back-breaker.
On first down at the Rebels 43, Warner took a toss and ran to the right. He shrugged off two tacklers, hit reverse and then sped the rest of the way for a touchdown. Kemaun Tillman’s two-point pass to Josh Vanderark pushed Effingham’s lead to 22-8 with 2:10 left in the third quarter.
"It should have been a five-yard loss, and the kid makes a great athletic move," Revell lamented. "That’s football."
Holder credited the line and Warner’s teammates for continuing to block as the speedy senior began to cut back.
"It was a team effort," he said. "It wasn’t just Casey. They didn’t just stop and watch."
Warner said he started thinking about cutting back across the field almost as soon as he got the ball.
"I was thinking I could outrun everyone on the defense," he said.
Effingham’s defense forced three-and-outs on three of the Mustangs’ first four possessions of the second half. Holder also lauded his linebackers and secondary for their punishing hits on would-be Mustangs receivers.
"The coverage allowed us to keep it underneath and swarm on it," he said. "We want to bring the thump. We want people to remember playing us on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and our defense showed that. We were extremely physical."
South Effingham’s offense, bottled up much of the night, then drove to the Rebels 5 in the final two minutes. But Warner leaped to swat away Pullum’s pass to the 6-foot-8 Hagan at the goal line on fourth down to deny any comeback attempts.
The Rebels had three drives with chances to put the game out of reach, but the Mustangs forced a fumble at their own 30, made a fourth-down stop at their own 26 and recovered another fumble at their own 12.
"They keep fighting," Revell said of his players. "They fought hard and got the ball back and we got to the 5-yard line. If we score there, who knows what happens. But tribute to Coach Holder and his staff, the way they prepared their kids, and their kids played hard. But our kids did, too."
Warner was named the Marine Corps player of the game, finishing with 64 yards rushing and two pass breakups.
"Casey Warner was exceptional tonight, offensively and defensively," Holder said. "He was a game-changer for us. We have a few of those, and he stepped up and got it done. He showed what a great athlete he is."
Bartley finished with 109 yards on 19 carries, Dusty Baker had 56 yards on 11 carries, Jacob Anderson ran five times for 16 yards, and Tillman added 37 yards on six attempts. Tyjon Williams was held to 10 yards on two receptions, and Tillman was 5-of-10 passing for 108 yards.
Eight different Rebels had carries, and Holder lauded the work of the offensive line under coordinator Clint Hodges’ tutelage. Of 47 rushing attempts, only three went for losses, and there were only three offensive penalties on the Rebels.
"They’re getting better week by week," he said. "Coach Hodges is doing a tremendous job with them. It amazes me they are progressing the way they are, as much as he tolerates me, because I don’t back down on him. I’m intolerable sometimes, as my wife will tell you. But he’s doing a tremendous job.
"It’s on Coach Hodges and his group," Holder said. "I have nothing to do with that. It was a tremendous effort by them and a dominating performance. They are really bringing back what we’re trying to do."
Pullum completed 18 of 35 passes for 131 yards. Hagan had 61 yards on four catches, Taylor Donavan had four catches for 36 yards, Donnie Elliott caught five passes for 26 yards, Sam Valleroy had three receptions for eight yards and Nick Reno had 20 yards on two catches.
Reno led South Effingham rushers with 27 yards on four carries, and Patrick Brown ran eight times for 22 yards.
The Rebels will be home Sept. 27 for their first Region 3-AAAAA game of the season as they host Bradwell Institute. Holder is glad to have the off week, especially after the in-county rivalry game.
"My head hurts so bad right now, I can’t see even see straight," Holder said after the game. "It’s a just tremendous amount of pressure. It’s a tremendous victory for our kids because it means so much to this whole community. If wasn’t very important, all these people wouldn’t show up."
Revell instructed his players to put this loss behind them as quickly as they stored away their first two wins. The Mustangs will travel to Hephzibah this Friday.
"Come Monday, it’s gone," he said of the loss to the Rebels following the game. "We’ll try to help them get through the weekend, especially with a loss like that to your rival, it makes it that much harder."