It was really, really stressful but I'm real excited for them.Rebels coach Buddy Holder
SPRINGFIELD — The Effingham County Rebels reached a historic rung on the ladder of success Friday night.
The Rebels (7-4) repelled Lakeside-Evans (5-5) 16-10 in thrilling fashion to earn their first state playoff win since 1987.
It took a stellar effort by the Effingham County defense to continue its postseason climb. The Panthers were repeatedly given new life by penalties, including a fourth-and-goal facemask call during a scoring drive late in the fourth quarter.
Effingham County's victory was not assured until Julian Legrande and Randy Scott combined to thwart a fourth-and-goal pass into the end zone in the final 10 seconds.
"For the kids to overcome the calls that went against us and still hang tough right there, they showed a lot of toughness and competitive spirit in being able to do that," Rebels coach Buddy Holder said. "My hat is off to them. It was really, really stressful but I'm real excited for them."
Holder wouldn't have been upset if the Rebels drew a flag on the Panthers' final play — a desperation heave from the Effingham County 11 as the clock wound down.
He explained, "In that situation, it is not an automatic (penalty) first down (in case of an interference penalty) so we basically turned them loose on fourth down and said, 'Look. Whatever you do, don't let them catch the ball. I don't care if you mug them, if you tackle them, it doesn't matter."
Holder's team has won three of its last four games, including a narrow loss to Region 2-AAAAAA champion Glynn Academy. It has surrendered a total of just 17 points in its last 10 quarters.
"What you hope to do is get better every week and that's kind of our goal," Holder said. "We preach to those guys to go out and fix our mistakes and be the best team we can be next Friday than we have been all year long. We've kind of climbed the ladder a little bit."
The next step on the Rebels' ladder is a doozy — a road contest Friday at undefeated Class AAAAAA No. 1 Lee County (11-0).
"All you can do is control you. We can't control them," Holder said. "You may get a fumble, you may get an interception, you may get something go your way. You just don't know."
If the placekicking plays a major role in the outcome in Leesburg, the Rebels will likely be in good shape. Zach Thomas booted field goals of 31, 45 and 33 yards against the Panthers. The final one came after he was injured trying to make a tackle on a kickoff.
"In warmups, he was kicking them from 60 from the right hash over there," Holder said. "He's got the leg."
Effingham County's lone touchdown came on a second-quarter run by Desmond House. It occurred on the first snap after Julian Legrande picked off a pass and returned it 50 yards to the Lakeside-Evans 8.
The Panthers, who trailed 10-0 at halftime, tallied their only touchdown in the third quarter after advancing 56 yards in 12 plays.
Lakeside-Evans gained only 220 total yards. Its first drive of the game ended after four plays on an interception by Chase Howze.