By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
GUYTON — For a half, South Effingham had the better of play against perennial power Wayne County. Through three quarters, the Mustangs were still within striking distance of an improbable win.
But two or three forgettable minutes of the fourth quarter ruined a potential memorable Friday night as SEHS fell to Wayne County in Jesup 31-17.
The Mustangs (0-3) will have a bye this week before meeting their next opponent, rival Effingham County, on Oct. 9.
SEHS coach Nathan Clark saw positives.
“We made progress this week and that’s something you can build on during a bye week,” he said.
In two of the last three years, Wayne County under coach Ken Cribb won the Region 2-AAAAA title — a region that also included SEHS.
Only a week earlier, the Yellow Jackets took Richmond Hill, a Final Four state playoff team in Class AAAAAA a year ago, to the wire before missing a late, game-tying field goal.
Meanwhile, the Mustangs had 26-3 and 42-7 losses to Class A Metter and Class AAA Appling County in consecutive weeks on their 2020 resume. They had a total of 103 offensive yards in the two games and never held a lead.
But in high school football, you never know. Three of the last four games between SEHS and Wayne were decided by four points or less. Last year’s game was decided by a blocked field-goal attempt in overtime.
The Mustangs weren’t backing down this year either after taking a 7-3 halftime lead. They weathered a one-hour lightning delay and trailed only 10-7 after three quarters.
But that’s when “the wheels came off the bus there in a two- to three-minute period,” Clark said.
A long touchdown run for the Jackets, followed by an interception returned for a touchdown and a punt returned for a touchdown — all within the opening minutes of the fourth quarter — made it 31-7.
“We understand we’re a different team than last year,” Clark said. “We took two pretty good beatings and we had to refocus and try to figure out what we could do to play harder.”
Friday’s task became harder without six major contributors — Desmond House, Buck Johnson, Nick Milbrandt, Antonio Queen, Jamarie Mitchell and Jake Kerns, who were out for the game.
SEHS still produced its best statistical effort of the season. The Mustangs finished with 184 yards of total offense. Cameron Edwards scored on a 2-yard run in the second quarter and Larry Scott completed an 80-yard, fourth-quarter drive with a 13-yard TD run.
Liam Rickman kicked a 44-yard field goal.
Scott finished with nine carries for 55 yards and a touchdown. Quarterback Alex Cela completed 9-of-22 passes for 74 yards. Corey Renfro had four catches for 30 yards.
Defensively, Clark noted the play of Malcolm Brown, Malkolm Stephens, Hunter Slater, Cole Herrington and Brayden Bell.
On the line, sophomore Jah’Tavion Weickerson, who was seeing his first action of the season, caused a fumble and recorded a sack.
“I think the kids were disappointed they lost but at the same time everyone should feel good about playing better,” Clark said.