SPRINGFIELD — The Effingham County Rebels took a major leap forward Friday night but still fell a tad short of their goal.
After getting outscored 75-7 in their previous two games — losses to Benedictine (49-7) and Lakeside-Evans (26-0) — the Rebels (1-3) found the end zone a couple times and were in position to win late in the fourth quarter before dropping a 17-14 homecoming decision to Howard (2-1).
The Rebels turned the ball over twice with a chance to take the lead in the final four minutes.
“We improved this week but we made some mistakes that hurt us,” Effingham County head coach Buddy Holder said. “We will go back to work next week and work on correcting them.”
The Rebels’ 14-10 halftime advantage held up until the 10:44 mark of the fourth quarter when running back Dajon James capped an eight-play, 85-yard drive with a short touchdown run.
Effingham County answered with a long, clock-eating march that was powered primarily by quarterback keepers by Zach Garcia. He carried the ball five times for 42 yards as the Rebels advanced to the Howard 8.
It was there that the turnover bug bit the Rebels with their first chance to reclaim the lead. A backfield miscue resulted in a fumble, giving the ball to the Huskies at their 10 with 3:38 remaining.
Effingham County’s defense stood solid, however, preventing Howard from gaining a first down. That set up a punt that gave the Rebels the ball near midfield with 1:16 left.
Howard quickly snuffed the threat, though, as Jullian Jones picked off a first-and-10 pass at his 30, allowing his team to run out the clock.
The Rebels were solid offensively in the first half as they tallied touchdowns on their only two possessions. Isaiah Bell capped the 55-yard opening drive, set up by an Ashley Thompson fumble recovery, by hauling in an 18-yard pass from Garcia. The second scoring march covered 73 yards and ended with a 28-yard strike from Garcia to Keion Wallace.
Effingham County’s scores sandwiched Howard’s only touchdown drive of the opening half. It ended with a four-yard run by Gerraud Pertillo. The Huskies also got a 33-yard field goal from Darien Montano to end the second period.
Neither team punted in the first half.
“We’ve just got to keep fighting,” Holder said. “Now we’ve got a big rivalry game (against South Effingham) coming up and it’s even bigger now because it’s a (Region 2-AAAAAA) game.”
The Rebels finished with 172 total yards, including 72 on five catches by Wallace. Garcia completed 10 of 14 posses for 166 yards.
Devon Swinney paced Effingham County in rushing with 41 yards.
Friday’s game against South Effingham at Rebel Field will kick off at 7:30 p.m.