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Harper returns to SEHS sidelines for big game
Mike Harper SEHS coach
Acting Mustangs Head Coach Mike Harper, who last coached for the Mustangs in 2000, is on the field asking referee the reason for the flag against the Mustangs late in the third quarter with South down 35-0. (Photo by Gilbert Miller/Effingham Herald.)

By Donald Heath

Special for the Effingham Herald

GUYTON – If it was a Hollywood movie, South Effingham's assistant football coach Mike Harper would have been carried off the field on his players' shoulders Friday night after an improbable victory.

Remember the Titans?

How about Remember the Mustangs?

But Guyton is a long way from Hollywood. Harper, who was South's first football coach when the school opened in 1996, was thrust into his first head coaching duties since 2000; but he didn't have a plan from yesteryear to prevent Effingham County's 42-7 victory at the Corral.

"It was an honor to coach again," said Harper, 71, and as energetic as ever. "I've been hanging around (the program) for three years and they asked if I would step in. It was just an honor – win, lose or draw."

Harper was asked the step in because SEHS' current head coach Loren Purvis was ejected from the last game – a 52-36 victory over Bradwell Institute on Sept. 8 – when Mustangs safety Ashton Troutman was flagged for targeting. The penalty came with an automatic disqualification from the game and the next game on the schedule.

Purvis argued and was tossed and faced the same consequences.

Before the game, SEHS' student cheering section began a chant, "Free Purvis."

SEHS principal Dr. Torian White asked Harper to return to South in 2021 when an opening arose in the weight room. Harper, then retired, was glad to lend a hand. He remembered White as a Mustang marching band member.

Harper stayed to help Coach Nathan Clark for two years and then joined Purvis' staff this season.

Clark affectionately called Harper, "Team Grandpa."

"It felt kind of surreal to see (Harper) on the sidelines," Ford said. "My dad was on his staff (as strength coach) at Berkmar in the 1980s (1986-87) so I was always running around the weight room. Harper was telling me, 'I remember you when you were this big (lowering his hand to his waist).' "

Effingham County has dominated the series in recent years with four straight wins. After the game, an SEHS senior needed consoling. He had never beaten the Rebels during his high school career.

Harper put his arm around the player and they walked together to hear the band play the alma mater.

"You know the very first time we played Effingham at home, we beat them," Harper said. "I was just hoping I could make some things work as the coach."