By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
GUYTON – Effingham County has a new offensive line, a new secondary, new wide receivers. The transition hasn't always gone smoothly, but head coach John Ford says trust the process.
"We had to keep our heads up. We had to keep going. We had to fight as a team," said Rebels' senior Lamar Roberts, one of the newbies to the starting wide receiver/defensive back group.
With renewed determination against an old rival Sept. 22, ECHS looked the part of a squad that has played for a region title on the last game of the regular season for two straight years.
Roberts kick-started the offense with two long receptions and the Rebels had little problem with their county neighbor South Effingham during a 42-7 rout before a capacity crowd of about 6,000 at the Corral.
A festive night became tragic, however, when a pedestrian was hit by a recreation vehicle and killed in front of the school on Noel C. Conaway Road as the game was in progress.
The victim was identified as Herbert Calahan, 68, of Guyton. An ECSO spokesperson said the investigation is ongoing.
ECHS (2-3, 1-0 Region 2-6A) won its fourth straight game against the Mustangs in a series that started in 1996 when South was formed from a split of Effingham County High School.
The Rebels now lead the series, 18-12.
"Playing South Effingham, it's always going to be emotional, but the kids prepared hard and played hard," Ford said. "We're process-based. If felt great to put two good weeks of practice together and then have it pay off on the grass."
For South, it was a night of frustration. The Mustangs, who entered the game undefeated at 3-0, trailed 42-0 with two Rebel possessions into the third quarter.
SEHS (3-1, 0-1) played without head coach Loren Purvis and starting safety Ashton Troutman. Troutman was ejected from the Bradwell Institute game on Sept. 8 after being whistled by officials for targeting. Purvis argued the call and was also ejected.
In accordance with Georgia High School Association rules, players or coaches ejected from a game must sit out the next game.
"Having a head coach out, believe or not, it has an effect," said SEHS assistant coach Mike Harper, who took over the head coaching duties for one night.
Harper had been the Mustangs' athletic director and first head football coach when the school opened in 1996.
But South couldn't address a big night by Rebels quarterback Nate Hayes Jr., who threw for 244 yards and three touchdowns.
Roberts caught three passes for 104 yards and a score and hauled in a two-point conversion. Ryan Wells and Zach Gant also caught TD passes.
A.J. Butts ran for two scores and Jayden Evans added another as the balanced Rebels finished with 449 yards of total offense while averaging nearly 10 yards a play.
Quarterback Kaden DeGenaro accounted for the Mustangs' lone TD on a 1-yard run in the fourth quarter.
"We weren't planning on coming out and being particularly explosive, but credit goes to Nate and the O-line for the protection and then the receivers did a great job for winning (their routes) and running," Ford said. "It was great execution and I'm grateful for it."
Roberts and Hayes connected on the first of many explosive plays, beating press coverage at the line of scrimmage with a 48-yard TD pass on ECHS' second possession.
"Nate gave me a perfect ball over my shoulder and all I saw was green to the end zone," Roberts said.
Roberts made a leaping catch of another strike from Hayes for a 54-yard gain to set up Butts' 5-yard TD run on the next possession to make it 12-0.
The Rebels pulled away with 16 points during a 36-second span during the final two minutes before halftime. Wells hauled in a 47-yard TD pass from Hayes and a two-point conversion pass to Q King made it 20-0.
ECHS' Jayden Marzett recovered an SEHS fumble at the 1 on the next possession and after a 5-yard penalty, Evans scooted into the end zone from the 6. Roberts caught a two-point conversion pass and it was 28-0.
The Rebels continued to pour on the scoring in the third quarter. Butts ran 82 yards for a score on ECHS' third play after intermission and Hayes and Gant teamed on a 16-yard TD pass to make it 42-0.
South couldn't keep up, finishing with 168 total yards.
The final score was 42-7, giving the Rebels their fourth consecutive win in the cross-county rivalry.
"We felt like we were ready, things just didn't go our way," Harper said. "We were just shell-shocked in the first half. You can't take anything away from Hayes. He's really good. They have some stud running backs and they have a strong defensive front. You have to take your hats off to them."
ECHS will return to action Sept. 29 at Rebel Field against Glynn Academy, a surprising 22-15 overtime winner over Brunswick.
South will be home on Sept. 29 for a non-region matchup with Screven County, which will be coming off a 28-0 win over Warren County.