By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
RICHMOND HILL — Effingham County managed to get only seven snaps during its spring football game with Bleckley County before lightning led to its cancellation.
The Rebels’ scrimmage with Screven County on Aug. 12 was scrapped because of rain.
So ECHS played its first game in about nine months Friday night and Game One mistakes showed during a 14-0 loss to Richmond Hill.
“In a perfect world, you play those (scrimmages),” Rebels coach John Ford said. “But I’m not going to make any excuses. We have to play better and I take full responsibility and accountability.”
ECHS’ defense was outstanding, allowing the Wildcats just 140 offensive yards and forcing three turnovers. Defensive back Timmy Brown had two fumble recoveries.
And the Rebels may have found their running back this season after graduating two seniors who took the bulk of the carries a year ago. Junior Jayden Evans ran powerfully between the tackles and finished with 72 yards on 18 carries.
Ford also found positives in junior Nate Hayes’ first career start at quarterback. Hayes was 11-for-27 with 129 passing yards and carried 10 times for 31 yards.
But it was anything but a perfect Friday in Richmond Hill. Rain and threatening weather delayed the start 30 minutes and ECHS followed with a mistake-prone 48 minutes that led to the first shutout loss in Ford’s two-year tenure.
The Rebels committed 11 penalties for 95 yards and their highly touted receivers added a fumble and had abouta half dozen dropped passes.
A decisive gaffe came midway through the third quarter. A bad snap sailed over punter Messiah Bacon’s head. The play resulted in a 39-yard loss and set up Richmond Hill at the ECHS 13-yard line. Three plays later, the Wildcats scored the game’s first touchdown — an 11-yard run by Ravon Grant on a perfectly designed reverse with 4:30 left in the quarter.
“(In a defensive struggle) you hope you’re the team that cracks it open — you bust a long run, you get that completion, but we never made any breaks for ourselves,” Ford said.
The Wildcats tacked on another touchdown when running back Zion Gillard powered in from the 4 early in the fourth quarter. The drive was aided by a fourth-down penalty. Richmond Hill’s Blake Williams kicked an apparent 26-yard field goal, but the Wildcats took points off the scoreboard when the Rebels’ penalty resulted in a first down at the 4. It paid off when Gillard scored on the next play.
It was a tough outing for ECHS, which had hoped to avenge a 28-6 loss to Richmond Hill last season. The Wildcats, who moved up to Class AAAAAAA, have won the last four meetings against the Rebels.
Ford liked playing a competitive foe in the season-opener.
“You want to test yourself against somebody who’s not going to give up anything (easily) and they’re going to make you earn every yard,” Ford said. “(Richmond Hill) has good players who are well-coached and play hard. … You have to execute better and strain a little more to make the plays that are there.”
Executing better and straining a little more could be the recipe needed for a better result against ECHS’ next opponent, Burke County, on Friday in Waynesboro. The Bears are coming off a 24-22 season-opening win over Thomson.
Last year, Burke County finished 9-3 and advanced to the Class AAA state quarterfinals.