SAVANNAH — Even though Nathan Clark has been the head of the South Effingham football team for just a couple months, the Mustangs are already looking like a different team.
South Effingham finished in the top six during the 24-team Cam Newton 7v7 tournament this past weekend. The squad boasted a 9-4 record over the course of two days
The performance exceeded Clark’s expectations.
“I was hoping to go out there and be .500,” he said. “Obviously, I go out there and believe we can win every game but you when you are building a program you don’t want to set the bar too high.”
At the Jennifer Ross Soccer Complex in Savannah, the Mustangs dawned two quarterbacks who held their own against some of the best teams in the area. Taylor Jackson will start this season but Zach Taylor proved he can shoulder the load in Jackson’s absence.
Although passing leagues don’t always simulate what happens when there are 11 defensive players on the field on a Friday night, the coaching staff learned a lot about Taylor. The senior went 4-1 Saturday morning and his performance propelled the team to the quarterfinals.
“I want to commend Zach Taylor,” Clark said. “Taylor Jackson, I felt coming out of the spring was clearly the best quarterback we had. I told Zach you’ll be the No. 2 but it’s not so far removed that it’s not a competition.
“Taylor had to take the ACT Saturday morning. For the morning games, Zach got us through the whole thing. We won all but one game. He did a great job.
“After lunch, Taylor got there from the ACT and I talked to the coaches. I felt like we had good momentum going and I asked them if they support my decision to move Zach back to wide receiver. Taylor came in and was hitting it. He really and truly did a great job of stepping up and doing what he was supposed to do.”
The Mustangs started the tournament 4-2 with wins over Benedictine (19-10), New Hampstead (18-13), Bethesda Academy (18-9) and Statesboro (18-9).
“At the very beginning of the tournament, they were trying to figure things out,” Clark said. “When they got a little bit of confidence, they started rolling.”
But it was their loss against Woodward Academy that saw a turnaround in their attitude and performance.
“They responded well after the loss against Woodward,” Clark said. “I think that confidence led the day Saturday. They were kind of dejected but it went from, ‘I don’t know if we can win’, to, ‘I think we can win,’ to, ‘Hey, we are supposed to win and we are going to win this thing.’”
Despite hot, muggy conditions and the competitiveness of the tournament, the Mustangs pushed themselves to the limit.
“Our kids went out and competed and the kids got better from the first game to the last game,” Clark said. “Even in the last game we played very well but when you get that deep in the tournament, when there are only six teams remaining, every single one of them is good.”
And their record is more than wins and losses. The team learned how to manage the game when the score was close and kept its foot on the gas when it had a comfortable lead.
Defensively, the Mustangs gave up an average of 15 points per game.
“I was so impressed with the defense,” Clark said. “Coach Nick Smith does such a great job defensively. I just stay out of his way for the most part. He had those boys ready to go.
“I thought Hunter Tindall continued to do great things. I thought we did well in the secondary.”
The Mustangs were one of the last eight teams standings before the event was transferred to Memorial Stadium. There, South Effingham defeated New Hampstead 30-9 before losing to Liberty County 23-19.