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Rebels' season ends at Westlake
Cooper Nease
Rebels defensive end Cooper Nease (23) reaches for Lions quarterback RJ Johnson during Saturday's Class AAAAAA playoff game at Westlake. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff
Keion Wallace
Rebels receiver Keion Wallace (3) makes a leaping grab in front of Lions cornerback Avieon Terrell on Saturday. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff

ATLANTA — First-year Effingham County head coach John Ford wasn’t dejected or disheartened after his team’s season-ending loss to Westlake on Saturday.

“I just want to give glory to God and credit to these seniors,” Ford said following a 45-3 setback in the opening round of the Class AAAAAA playoffs. “The seniors are an awesome group and I am so grateful for them and the work they put in. When we go back to work (to prepare for the 2022 season), we will build on the foundation and culture that they have established.”

The seniors led the Rebels to a 6-4 mark and their first postseason berth since 2018. Effingham County entered the season having won just five of its previous 16 contests.

Senior quarterback Matthew Ford was one of team’s top leaders. He played Saturday with a hand injury that left him unable to grip the ball earlier in the week. 

In addition, senior center Rett Heller continued to play with a broken hand and wide receiver Keion Wallace, a junior, made his initial appearance of the season following shoulder surgery. 

“They are tough kids, they’ve done the right things and they are made of the right stuff,” Ford said about his entire roster.

The Rebels won’t waste a second worrying about Saturday’s result. 

“We’ve got to get back to work,” Ford said. “You saw how good Westlake is. We’ve got to get back to work.”

The Lions (9-2) established their dominance early. They scored on their first four possessions and owned a 38-0 halftime advantage. The flurry of points, which kicked a running clock into effect in the second half, were fueled in part by a blocked punt.

Westlake displayed its confidence by shunning a punt while facing a fourth-and-6 situation at midfield in the first quarter. Instead of kicking the ball, quarterback RJ Johnson heaved a bomb to Cameron McIntyre, who advanced to the Effingham County 4.

Three plays later, Johnson scored on a two-yard run.

“They are a good team,” Coach Ford said. “They went down to Moultrie and beat (Class AAAAAAA) Colquitt County this year. You don’t do that if you are not a good team.”

Westlake’s defense was just as good as its offense. It limited the Rebels to two first-half first downs and got a 70-yard interception return for a touchdown from cornerback Avieon Terrell.

Effingham County was unable to establish a running game but managed to complete 20 passes. The connections resulted in just 113 yards, however, as tacklers quickly closed on the receivers.

Luis Meza provided the Rebels’ points by booting a 35-yard field with 7:42 left in the final period.