RINCON — Perched five yards and one precious second away from something they had never achieved before, the Ebenezer Eagles swooped into the end zone and seized it.
The Eagles grabbed their first Coastal Middle School Region football championship in school history Thursday when wide receiver Danny Murtha hauled in a pass from Kristopher Swinney on the final play, powering the Eagles to an 18-16 win over Richmond Hill. The score, which concluded a 50-yard drive in the final 30 seconds, set off a wild celebration in the stands and on the field.
“I think everybody at Ebenezer Middle School is excited for this right here,” Principal Brett Griffin said as fans screamed around him. “It’s been a long time coming and I’m proud of these players and coaches, and the whole school for getting behind them and supporting them.”
Ebenezer opened in 1995. Most of its football seasons since then have ended with losing records.
“They have come a long way,” Griffin said. “They have put in a lot of work and had a very successful year.”
Coach Erik Robinson said he was charged with changing the overall attitude at Ebenezer after a discussion with Effingham County High School coach John Ford.
“Ever since I’ve been here, Ebenezer has been everybody’s homecoming game,” Robinson said. “What I knew is — if our kids bought into the vision of working hard — why not us? Our biggest objective was to change the culture of this program so that our kids understood that the work was worth it and what we asked them to do was worth it.
“The result is stuff like this.”
The Eagles, who finished 9-0 after beating the Wildcats for the second time, showed their new tenacity at several points in the game. Swinney showed it on the decisive play when he didn’t panic after a poor shotgun snap. He picked the ball up off the ground and lofted a strike to Murtha.
“One thing we talk about everyday at practice is finishing the drill,” Robinson said. “We finished the drill and go one play at a time. You are going to have some bad stuff happen but you have to come back the next play.
“It helps when you have some really, really good football players and we have some really, really good football players. I’m blessed with that and the fact that they bought into the vision and expected the payoff..
“You never say a head hang. We plugged away and plugged away.”
After trailing 8-6 at halftime, the Eagles kept the ball the entire third quarter and scored with 7:54 left in the fourth period to take a 12-6 lead. The Wildcats, however, reclaimed the lead with 26 seconds.
On the ensuing kicking, the Wildcats’ were flagged for interfering with a fair catch. The ball was moved just past midfield after the infraction was marked off, setting up the decsive drive.
J’mere Doe-Davis tallied the Eagles’ first score on a long second-quarter reception.