Region 2 vs. Region 4 playoffs
1 p.m. — Region 4 No. 3 Lovejoy at Region 2 No. 2 Richmond Hill
7:30 p.m. — Region 2 No. 3 Effingham County at Region 4 No. 2 Westlake
7:30 p.m. — Region 4 No. 4 Tucker at Region 2 No. 1 Brunswick
7:30 p.m. — Region 2 No. 4 Glynn Academy at Region 4 No. 1 Hughes
By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Hera;d
SPRINGFIELD — The task of beating the No. 4 team in the state was daunting Friday night, but Effingham County was one big play away from pulling off one gigantic upset at Rebel Field.
The Rebels rallied from an 18-point halftime deficit but fell just short in a 21-18 loss to Brunswick, dashing dreams of capturing a region title for the first time since 1995.
ECHS (6-3, 4-2 Region 2-AAAAAA) dropped to the region’s No. 3 seeding for the Class AAAAAA state tournament and will travel to Atlanta to play Westlake on Saturday night at 7:30.
“I’m certainly proud of this group,” Rebels coach John Ford said. “I love this team, love this group. We just have to keep working.”
It was a warm statement on a rainy night when the temperature dipped to 45 degrees (39 wind chill) at kickoff.
Touchdowns by Miquel Allen on a 10-yard run in the third quarter and Xayvier Coppock on a 1-yard dive and a two-point conversion after a pass from Matthew Ford to Khiry Wallace in the fourth quarter got ECHS within a field goal.
But the Rebels probably left kicking themselves over missed opportunities. A combination of stellar ECHS defense and a Brunswick offensive meltdown provided more scoring chances.
The undefeated Pirates (10-0, 6-0) entered the game averaging about 38 points a game and had beaten five previous region foes by an average of almost 28 points per game.
But the Rebels defense held Brunswick to just 45 offensive yards and no points after halftime.
And the Pirates had two turnovers, ended two more possessions with punts of 9 and 4 yards and had another possession stopped when their punter couldn’t get a kick off and took an 8-yard loss.
The entire third quarter was played on Brunwick’s side of the 50.
But ECHS couldn’t completely capitalize and went scoreless on second-half possessions that reached the Brunswick 25, 15, and 28-yard lines.
“There were plays to be made down the stretch that just weren’t made,” Ford said. “We have to learn to finish.”
Brunswick’s powerful defensive line was the biggest obstacle and the Rebels’ short passing game was under constant pressure. The Pirates sacked quarterback Ford six times and limited the air attack to 100 yards.
ECHS had some success running with Allen and Coppock. Allen had 107 yards on 13 carries. Coppock had 45 yards on 15 carries.
The Rebels defense was gashed for two 50-yard plays during a seven-minute stretch in the second quarter when Brunswick scored all its points.
But like a week earlier against Statesboro, the defense turned things around in the second half.
While disappointing, ECHS’ loss to Brunswick provides some optimism for the next big challenge ahead — Westlake, the No. 6 team in the state.
The Lions (8-2, 4-1 Region 4-AAAAAA) have had an outstanding season led by quarterback RJ Johnson, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound junior who has already received offers from Eastern Kentucky, Florida Atlantic and Toledo, according to 24/7 Sports.
Westlake had a signature win over Class AAAAAAA Colquitt County — the No. 7 team in its classification. The Lions’ only losses (both by seven) came against region rival Langston Hughes (No. 3 in AAAAAA) and Creekside (No. 2 in AAAAA).
John Ford knows a little something about Westlake. He was the head coach at Roswell in 2016 when the Hornets blanked Westlake 28-0 in the Class AAAAAAA state semifinals.
“Westlake is an outstanding team and Bobby May is a good football coach,” Ford said. “They’re going to have a lot of talented players who play the game the right way so we have to get back to work. We’ll look at the film and see what we have to do to win.”