By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
SPRINGFIELD -- Efingham County High School celebrated before and after its football game with rival South Effingham on Friday night.
The Rebels honored their former coach, Bob Griffith, by naming the stadium after him in a pre-game ceremony, then provided more cause for celebration after a resounding 29-3 victory against the Mustangs for their ninth county championship in the last 11 years.
An enthusiastic crowd of about 5,000 watched ECHS (3-2, 1-0 Region 2-AAAAAA) win its third game in a row heading into this Friday’s key region showdown with Glynn Academy in Brunswick.
Last season, the Rebels snapped a 14-game losing streak to the Red Terrors with a 20-14 victory. The skid dated to 2003.
“Coach (Rocky) Hidalgo does a great job and stuff we were able to do last year (against Glynn) we can’t count on this year because he is such a good coach,” ECHS coach John Ford said. “We have to be ready to roll.”
Prior to kickoff with South Effingham, Griffith and his family were joined by school district Superintendent Dr. Yancy Ford, Principal Amie Dickerson, athletic director Jake Darling, state Rep. Bill Hitchens, state Rep. Jon Burns and other officials at the 50-yard line for a tribute to a coach who helped turn around ECHS’ football fortunes.
Griffith, a Georgia Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Famer, coached the Rebels for 18 seasons (1981-1998) and compiled a 129-67 record with five subregion championships, three region championships, made the state playoffs nine times with an appearance in the 1987 Class AAAA state championship game.
ECHS’s football stadium is now called Rebel Field at Bob Griffith Stadium — or “The Griff.”
“I’m really glad it happened and glad his family could share in it,” Ford said. “Coach Griffith meant so much to so many in this community. It’s a small tribute to a great man.”
The Rebels football team continued the feel-good night for their fans. ECHS scored on its first two possessions to build a 15-0 lead in the first quarter and never let the Mustangs get untracked.
Junior running back Jayden Evans ran for 128 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. Evans had all 65 yards during his team’s second drive — reeling off chunk runs of 9, 28, 15 and 11 yards before scoring from 2 yards out.
Evans earned his chance to start this season after last year’s starters graduated.
“(Jayden is) a hard-working kid and he was ready when his number was called,” Ford said. “I’m glad to see him experience some rewards.”
Keysean McCarr, a 6-foot, 240-pound defensive tackle, scored the Rebels’ first touchdown on a 1-yard run in the team’s jumbo goal-line package to complete ECHS’sopening possession. Point-after holder Nate Hayes scrambled into the end zone after a bobbled snap to make it 8-0.
Sophomore Damion Gordon added a third TD on a 48-yard run in the third quarter and Evans finished the Rebels’ scoring with a 5-yard run. Kicker Jonah Strickland booted the final three PAT tries successfully.
Defensively, McCarr led a staunch defense that allowed just 62 yards and four first downs before a final Mustangs drive netted 77 yards and Tyler Quick’s 34-yard field goal with 3:10 to go.
ECHS outgained South 302-139 in total yards.
“Effingham County is a really good team. I tip my hat to them,” SEHS coach Nathan Clark said. “They’re really good defensively and offensively they ran the ball effectively, probably better than I’ve seen them run it all year.”