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Rebels shut down Mustangs offense
Rebels defense
A host of Rebels led by linebacker Luke Roberts (27) swarm Mustangs running back Jamari Fields (3) in the first quarter Friday night. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff

By Donald Heath

Special for the Effingham Herald

GUYTON -- Coach John Ford might be a newcomer to the Effingham County-South Effingham football game but he didn’t have a problem breaking down the rivalry in its simplest terms.

“One county, two teams, 365 days of bragging rights,” he said.

Those bragging rights belong to the Rebels again after methodically taking apart South Effingham 34-0 before a capacity crowd at the Corral on Friday night.

“It was a pretty good atmosphere, even in pregame warmups,”  said Ford, who got the Rebels head coaching job in January. “It was electric. The community came to bat. It was a lot of fun.” 

ECHS (3-1, 1-0 Region 2-AAAAAA) extended its winning streak to three games, the Rebels’ longest since 2016 when the team reeled off five victories in a row.

SEHS dropped to 1-3, 0-1 in region play.

The Rebels made it an easy night with a defense that made it tough on the Mustangs. ECHS surrendered only 33 total yards and four first downs.

SEHS had just one first down (the result of a Rebel penalty) after the first quarter.

“We weren’t able to execute and they were able to put pressure on the quarterback every time we dropped back,” SEHS coach Nathan Clark said. “We have to get better.”

The Mustangs aren’t alone in their frustrations dissecting the Rebels’ defense this season. ECHS has allowed just six points in the last three games. The Rebels haven’t surrendered a touchdown in the first half this season.

“When we’re going against our defense in practice, it’s tough sledding so I know what other offenses feel like. It’s hard,” Ford said.

The game turned on a key defensive stop in the second quarter. Trailing 3-0 and facing a fourth-and-2 situation at the ECHS 48, Clark gambled and dialed up a short-yardage, rugby-like power scrum play, similar to a play that worked well in his last game against Wayne County.

But the Rebels couldn’t be overpowered.

“We got blown up upfront and had to bounce it outside and couldn’t get the yards,” Clark said. “You have to give credit to (the Rebels). They played extremely hard. They’re well coached and their players executed.”

The momentum never left ECHS’ side and in the next 16 minutes the Rebels produced four touchdowns to turn the game into a blowout.

After the fourth-down stop, ECHS scored a touchdown five plays later (with the help of three SEHS penalties) on Xayvier Coppock’s 1-yard scoring run.

On its next possession, the Rebels marched 72 yards on 12 plays with quarterback Matthew Ford scrambling the last three yards with 42.2 seconds left in the half to make it 17-0.

The first play after intermission, Khiry Wallace took a screen pass 73 yards down the right sidelines, leaving would-be tacklers in his wake, to set up ECHS at the Mustangs 7. Two plays later, Ford hit Timmy Brown for a 10-yard TD pass and lead ballooned to 24-0.

Ford threw another TD pass -- a 23-yarder to Caleb Williams -- to make it 31-0 midway through the third quarter.

It was a rough night for the Mustangs and, after a contentious final minute of the game, Clark directed his team straight to the lockerroom without the usual post-game fanfare.

But the Rebels didn’t mind sticking around to celebrate on the soggy turf and took turns taking pictures with a silver trophy,  symbolic of the county championship.

They had numerous heroes. Ford finished with 162 passing yards (7-for-7, 140 yards in the third quarter alone) and two touchdowns and ran for another score. Wallace had four catches for 95 yards. Coppock ran for 103 yards and a score on 19 carries.

Brown had a touchdown catch and an interception.

And backup kicker Luis Meza, filling in for Wyatt Lein who was out with a groin injury, booted field goals of 30 and 36 yards and was perfect on four extra-point tries.

“I’m proud of these coaches and players,” Ford said. “If we keep preparing like we have been working in practice, working in film study, we’ll be a tough out on Friday nights, that’s for sure.”

ECHS will have a bye on Friday night before meeting another rival, Richmond Hill, on the road Oct. 8.

SEHS travels to undefeated Brunswick (5-0, 1-0 Region 2-AAAAAA) on Friday.