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Rebels put on a show but fall short of playoffs
Zach Garcia
Rebels quarterback Zach Garcia rips off a big gain against the Blue Devils on Friday in Statesboro.
I wish we could have caught one more ball.
Outgoing Rebels head coach Buddy Holder
Buddy Holder
Outgoing Rebels head coach Buddy Holder watches the action as the clock winds down Friday night in Statesboro.

By Donald Heath

Special for the Effingham Herald

STATESBORO -- The Effingham County Rebels hoped to travel to the Class 6A state football playoffs by air Friday night.

They picked the right mode of transportation. Quarterback Zach Garcia piloted a passing attack that accumulated 351 yards and four touchdowns and wide receiver Keion Wallace caught 10 passes for 193 yards and three scores.

But the Rebels were grounded by the equally potent run game of the Statesboro Blue Devils.

Statesboro pounded out 362 rushing yards and five TDs and defeated ECHS 35-33 in a wildly entertaining game of contrasting styles at Womack Field.

“I wish we could have caught one more ball,” said Rebels coach Buddy Holder, who announced during the week he was leaving coaching at the end of the season for a job in the school district.

Holder’s final night after 23 years with Effingham County football -- eight as a head coach -- will be Friday at Brunswick.

ECHS (3-6, 2-3 Region 2-6A) had a chance to extend Holder’s blue-collar job on the sidelines another week. A win over Statesboro would have propelled the Rebels to at least fourth place in the region and a spot in the state playoffs.

But the loss, coupled with Brunswick’s win over Bradwell Institute, meant ECHS would miss the postseason for a second straight year.

And Statesboro (4-5, 3-2), a winner of three straight games, is in.

The Rebels came close against a team that throttled them 35-0 in a non-region game a year ago. This time, Garcia completed 26-of-41 passes and had TD tosses of 57 yards to Garrison Kline and 11, 70 and 25 yards to Wallace.

Garcia also rushed for 54 yards and had a 37-yard TD sprint.

His last hookup with Wallace -- a jumpball in the end zone that the sophomore took away from the defensive back -- and Grant Oliver’s point-after kick made it 35-33 with 2:44 left.

ECHS recovered the ensuing onsides kick and moved to the SHS 32 before giving up the ball on downs with about a minute to play.

“(The passing game) was something we’ve been working on all year and the kids executed and they were focused,” Holder said. “When these kids execute, anything is possible and we’ve been telling them that all year. They have plenty of talent around them. I’m so proud of them.”

Lovers of offensive football would have loved this game. The teams combined for three touchdowns (on three straight plays) during the final 31 seconds of the third quarter.

Six consecutive second-half possessions ended in touchdowns before the Rebels were stopped in the final minute. Garcia threw for 201 yards and Wallace had eight catches for 166 yards and three TDs all in the second half.

ECHS’ problem was the inability to get a defensive stop. Statesboro had second-half scoring drives of 88, 67 (one play) and 71 yards during its three full possessions before taking a victory-formation knee on the last snaps of the game.

An emotional scene followed as the Rebels listened to Holder’s post-game words.

“All the guys’ efforts all week were amazing and we took the hard work from the practice field to the game field,” Garcia said. “I’m proud of my teammates. I’m not upset at all. These are happy tears.”

With one game remaining, Holder took a moment to look back at his coaching career and ahead to his new job. He said the decision was easy, but heartfelt.

“When people show you loyalty the way (school district superintendent Dr. Yancy Ford) has shown me, working with me, allowing me to spend time with my family, it was something (I) couldn’t pass up,” Holder said. “At this point in my career, getting close to retirement, it was the right thing to do.”

Holder didn’t reveal his new role in the school district, but hinted he’ll have a new look.

“They joke I won’t be able to dress like a coach anymore, so my Christmas wish list has changed a bit,” Holder said.