EVANS — The Effingham County Rebels struggled to find their way in the dark and mud at Panther Stadium on Friday night.
After slogging their way through two scoreless quarters on mushy turf that was illuminated only by the lights on the home side for half the game, the Rebels gave up three third-quarter touchdowns and eventually lost to Lakeside 26-0. The rout was ignited by Zalon Hawes’ return of the second-half kickoff, a Rebels fumble deep in their territory and a successful onsides kick.
Effingham County head coach Buddy Holder didn’t use the unusual conditions as an excuse for defeat.
“They asked us at the front end if we would agree to play with half the lights,” Holder said. “I said, ‘Well, everybody is playing with half the lights. Are we going to stay here all night and wait for the lights to come on?
“Everybody had to play in it so we thought we would play.”
The two banks of lights on Effingham County’s side of the field finally came on at halftime but went dark again the instant that Grant Oliver’s foot struck the ball during the second-half kickoff that Hawes returned for a touchdown.
“We made some mistakes on special teams and then we gave them one offensively right down there in front of the end zone,” Holder said. “It set up an easy score.
The Rebels, who blanketed the Panthers during the first half, forced a three-and-out following Hawes’ kickoff return. On their next snap from their 23, however, they coughed up the ball in the backfield and a wild scramble ensued.
The Panthers finally recovered the slick pigskin at the Effingham County 2, setting up an Aidan Richardson touchdown run on the next play.
On the ensuing kickoff, Cole Movius squibbed the ball along the wet ground and Lakeside recovered it after it traveled 10 yards, setting up an 11-play, 52-yard touchdown drive. Temarcus Elam capped the march with a two-yard plunge with 2:30 left in the third period.
“On a night like this, with all the slop that we were playing in and playing half the game with half the lights, there was a lot of adversity,” Holder said. “In the first half, we really overcame that. We’ve just got to find a way to get the ball in the end zone when we get the opportunity so that we don’t put so much stress on our defense and special teams.”
Effingham County, limited to 10 rushing yards, has scored only one touchdown in its last eight quarters. It was hindered in the second half by a leg injury to senior center Spencer Jeffers.
After receiving attention in an ambulance that bogged down on the field, Jeffers was taken to a hospital by his parents.
The ambulance service said it was contractually obligated to remain at the stadium.
Effingham County is set to host Howard for homecoming on Friday at 7:30 p.m.