STATESBORO – The momentum shifted several times Friday night between the Effingham County Rebels and the Coffee County Trojans, but the Rebels ultimately fell 41-13 in the season opener.
Effingham sought revenge for last year’s 20-14 loss against Coffee County that ultimately denied them a state playoff berth. Instead, the Trojans walked away with their third straight win in the Erk Russell Classic at Georgia Southern’s Paulson Stadium.
“We’ve got a lot of things we gotta fix,” Effingham coach Buddy Holder said. “When you play a good team, they’ll show you real quick what you have going on that isn’t right. They exploited a lot of our weaknesses … and we’re going to fix our mistakes and we’re going to keep building.”
Coffee received the ball first, scoring the only touchdown of the quarter on a 70-yard drive that ended with an 18-yard run for senior Demetrius Davis, who ended the night with 130 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
Effingham began to move the ball late in the quarter into the beginning of the second quarter, but the first momentum shift came in favor of the Trojans when sophomore Jerid Stokes was picked off by Marquavious Jefferson, who returned in interception 62 yards for a touchdown. After a missed PAT, the Trojans led 13-0.
Effingham seemed to brush off the mistake quickly, working down the field into the red zone. After a Stokes pass was knocked away on third-and-10, McKenzie Stewart came on to attempt a 37-yard field goal that missed by a small margin.
Coffee County took over on downs on their own 20-yard line with under eight minutes left in the first half.
On third down, Trojan quarterback Matt Hughes almost connected on a long pass, but Rashaud Roper came up with a huge hit to break it up.
The Trojans were forced to punt. Darius Garvin blocked the kick and it was returned six yards by Demonte Lee for the first Rebel touchdown. The point after kick was missed, but the Rebels were on the board with 7:14 left to play in the half.
The Trojans responded with a quick drive down the field, ending with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Hughes to Jarquavious Jefferson.
Demonte Lee put the Rebels in business on the kickoff, returning the ball 56 yards to the Coffee 31-yard line. Eight plays later, Stokes connected with Zebrandon Gant on a 6-yard touchdown pass to close the score to 20-13 with 20 seconds left in the half.
Momentum seemed to be on the side of the Rebels at halftime, but the second half was all Trojans.
Coffee went on to score two touchdowns to put Effingham in a 34-13 hole, before the Rebels could string together a positive drive.
On their third possession of the quarter with 3:55 left to go, Stokes and Zebrandon Gant traded between the quarterback duties several times and strung together a nine-play drive that landed them in the red zone. A pass interference penalty kept the drive alive, but Stokes couldn’t hit the end zone before being sacked on a fourth-and-7 attempt that led to a fumble.
Twelve plays later, Coffee pulled way ahead with a 13-yard touchdown pass that pushed the score to 41-13 with 10:40 left in the game.
Although they had some mistakes that need addressing, Holder said he saw some things that he really liked out of his team – especially from his two new quarterbacks.
Stokes and Gant shared equal time calling plays for the team, creating the double threat that Holder wanted. Stokes primarily took to the air with his plays, ultimately going 9-for-17 with 76 passing yards and one touchdown.
Gant was all over the field – on both offense and defense. By the end of the night, he amassed 27 rushing yards on 11 carries, 19 receiving yards on two receptions, 68 passing yards on six completions and also tallied two tackles on defense.
“I saw a lot of good things from both of them,” Holder said. “They made some mistakes, but we’re really young in that position, so they’re going to make mistakes. They made a lot of good reads, they made some good throws and they worked really well in the pocket. I saw a lot of good things.”
Toot Johnson was the leading rusher (41 yards on six carries) and Demonte Lee was the leading receiver (36 yards on one reception). Demario Gant also caught four passes.
On the other side of the ball, Rashaud Roper, Demonte Lee and Edwin Scroggins each had four tackles a piece.
“I liked what I saw from the defense, too. At times they played hard and at times they got their techniques right, but Coffee did a good job of exploiting when we didn’t, and it showed,” Holder said. “I was pleased with a lot of their effort, but it’s a building thing and we’re going to get back to the drawing board and build on it.”
The Rebels travel to Thomson High School to face the Bulldogs this Friday in a non-region matchup. Thomson is coming off of a 45-0 win against Laney in their season opener.
“I just told (the players) that they have to be willing to look at these things and say ‘yes, we’re going to build on it,’” Holder said. “And if they’re willing to do that, then we’ll be fine.”