Tonight, it's about the seniors. I am sad for them. They are good people."Mustangs coach Nathan Clark
EVANS — South Effingham’s bounce-back season won’t include a highly desired carom into the Class AAAAAA playoffs.
The Mustangs (4-5, 2-4) were eliminated from postseason contention Friday night by their 37-24 Region 2-AAAAAA loss to Evans (4-6, 2-4). The fourth-seeded Knights earned a first-round date at No. 2 Thomas County Central.
“Tonight, it’s about the seniors,” Mustangs coach Nathan Clark said. “I’m sad for them. They are good people.”
Clark lauded his entire team.
“They kept fighting all the way to the end,” he said proudly. “This was a special group of seniors. They bought in to what we were doing.”
Employing a new offensive set, the wing-T, this year, the Mustangs tallied two region wins for the first time since Clark took the Mustangs’ helm in 2016. They improved their overall record from 1-9 in 2020 and 2-8 in 2021.
In addition, South Effingham showed dramatic defensive progress. They surrendered just 169 points after allowing 401 in 2021.
“Really, the senior class last year tried to get this thing going with a lot of changes that we made,” Clark said. “This year’s seniors took it to another level. There are some good kids in that senior class."
Some of the seniors were reduced to tears after the game. All received handshakes and hugs from Clark and his staff.
The class of 2023 includes Justin Martell, Jamari Fields, Tyrik Guyton, William Christmas, Rakeam Williams, Jaden Sanders, Jah’tavion Weickerson, Nick Sessions, Colin Edwards, AJ Kicklighter, Enrique Santana, Robert Clark, Jacob Taylor, Casey Slaughter, Mason Anderson, Varun Chavvakula, Matthew Moore and Irvin Herrera.
“Those guys are South Effingham football,” Clark said. “That’s what they live for. They fight 365 days a year.
“They work in that weight room, the come in early in the mornings and they stay late after practice. They do everything we ask them to do and they fought hard.
“I think they did a good job of setting the example for the next class that’s coming. We have a really large senior class coming next year and — if they will take it to the next level — I think we will have a really good team.”
South Effingham came close to posting a winning record for the first time since going 6-5 in Clark’s first year. It dropped its opener to Vidalia 21-14 after giving up a touchdown with five seconds left and fell to Glynn Academy 13-9 after advancing to the Terrors’ 5 in the closing three minutes.
The Mustangs will return five of six of their top blockers, a leading receiver and quarterbacks Aubrey Heath and Kaden De Genaro next year. The future is looks almost as bright on defense and special teams.
“We rotate a lot of people on the (defensive) line and will have five of six back,” Clark said. “We will have to replace our linebackers and most of the secondary but we will have our snapper, our kicker, our holder and our punter.
The Mustangs got off to a promising start against the Knights. They scored a touchdown on their opening drive after marching 80 yards in 15 plays. The capper was a 1-yard run by Kadin Ward.
Evans responded with a 63-yard scoring drive that ended with a 15-yard reception by KD Dorsey on the final play of the first period.
The Knights broke a 7-7 tie at the 4:29 mark of the second quarter when Tyler Wallace booted a 35-yard field goal. They scored again four minutes later on a 2-yard keeper by DJ Walton.
In the third quarter, Evans extended its lead to 24-7 after Walton scored on a 14-yard sweep.
South Effingham finally got untracked again in the fourth quarter, getting a 28-yard field goal from Tyler Quick with 9:34 left. Quick launched a short squib kick on the ensuing kickoff and it didn’t have the desired results.
The ball bounced around as intended but Dorsey eventually scooped up and rambled for a touchdown that helped push the Knights’s advantage to 30-10.
Colin Edward made miraculous, juggling touchdown catch in the end zone for the Mustangs’ second touchdown. The 22-yard grab came with 5:50 left after he landed on his back following a collision with Dontevius Williams.
Rayshaun King interrupted the Mustangs’ momentum when picked off a pass and returned it 82 yards for a touchdown with 4:31 to go.
South Effingham scored again just over a minute later on an 8-yard run by Ward, who racked up 108 yards on the night.
The Mustangs outgained the Knights in total yards 271-254.
“I am proud of these boys and I believe we will carry a lot of momentum into the offseason,” Clark said. “We will still be hungry.”