Another standout performance from Toot Johnson helped lead the Effingham County Rebels to their second consecutive victory as they took down the Statesboro High School Blue Devils 20-16 in Statesboro.
Johnson backed up his 169-yard rushing performance against South Effingham with a 193-yard effort against Statesboro. Johnson carried the ball 25 times and scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
The Rebels rushed for 250 yards as a team as Zebrandon Gant totaled 41 yards on seven carries and Jerris Stokes added 16 yards on eight carries. Stokes also passed for 111 yards with a touchdown on 7-13 passing.
Stokes’ favorite target on the night was Demario Gant, who hauled in four catches for 78 yards and a touchdown. Demonte Lee added two catches for 25 yards and Trevon Wilkenson caught one pass for eight yards.
The Blue Devils got on the board first with a two-yard touchdown run from Malik Prowell. Caleb Dowden’s kick was no good and Statesboro took a 6-0 lead.
The Rebels were unable to find much success in the opening quarter but took a lead in the second quarter when Zebrandon Gant scampered into the end zone on a handoff for an 11-yard touchdown. Mackenzie Stewart added the extra point and the Rebels took a 7-6 lead.
The two teams would remain scoreless the remainder of the half as both defenses played well.
In the third quarter, the Blue Devils reached the red zone but were unable to score a touchdown and settled for a 20-yard field goal from Dowden to give them a 9-7 lead.
With neither team scoring the remainder of the quarter, the Blue Devils’ lead remained unchanged until the fourth quarter. Statesboro’s Clayton Snyder picked up a mishandled snap that sailed over Johnson’s head and raced into the end zone for a 26-yard fumble return. Dowden’s kick was good and the Blue Devils increased their lead to 16-7.
With a little more than 10 minutes remaining in the game and trailing by two touchdowns, the Rebels went to work.
Starting on their own 20-yard line following the kickoff into the end zone from Dowden, Effingham’s offense established their will. A 10-play, 80-yard drive that included four first-down conversions ended with Johnson finding pay dirt from 10 yards out. Stewart’s extra point try was unsuccessful and the Rebels trailed 16-13.
The Blue Devils began their drive following the touchdown and managed to convert a first down before their quarterback, Tupac Lanier, was sacked by the Rebels’ defense on third down. The punt from Dowden pinned the Rebels inside their own 20-yard line and the clock continued to tick down.
The Rebels needed just five plays to drive the length of the field as Johnson and Zebrandon Gant made defenders miss with cuts and jukes. On the fifth play of the drive, Stokes connected with Demario Gant for an 18-yard score to put the Rebels up 19-16 – Stewart added the extra point and Effingham County retook the lead 20-16.
With 2:29 remaining in the game, the Blue Devils began their comeback attempt from their own 31 yard line.
On second-and-nine, Lanier dropped back for a pass, heaved the ball down the field towards a receiver and was intercepted by Effingham County safety, Demonte Lee. The Rebels were able to run out the clock and preserve the victory.
“Our kids battled hard against Statesboro,” head coach Buddy Holder said. “There were several times in the game where things didn’t go our way but our kids showed the resiliency and mental toughness needed to win that kind of game.”
While the interception sealed the deal for Lanier and the Blue Devils, the Statesboro offense played a solid game. Lanier finished with 62 rushing yards on 11 carries and added one completion on six attempts for 10 yards. The Blue Devils finished with 145 rushing yards on 40 carries.
The Blue Devils are now 0-4 and will travel to Baxley Friday night for a tilt with Appling County.
With the win, the Rebels are now 2-2 on the season and are riding a winning streak as they prepare for their next game, an away meeting with Burke County (4-0).
“We are working hard this week to improve upon our mistakes and try to be the best team we can possibly be this Friday night at Burke County,” Holder said. “That is our goal going into each week – to be a better team than we were the previous week. That is all we can control.”
Effingham County and Burke County will kick off at 7:30 p.m.