GUYTON — After a nail-biting week of awaiting their postseason fate, the South Effingham Mustangs were able to breathe a sigh of relief.
Statesboro’s 30-6 win over New Hampstead helped the Mustangs secure Region 2-AAAAA’s No. 4 seed. A New Hampstead victory would have left it tied for third place with Statesboro and South Effingham, creating the need for a mini playoff.
Instead, the Mustangs (6-4, 1-3) will be on the road against Jones County, the No. 1 seed from Region 4-AAAAA. South Effingham head coach Nathan Clark likes the way the squads match up. An added attraction is that he will have a chance to coach against Mike Chastain, who was on the staff at Peach County with Clark several years ago.
“I think this is a better matchup as the No. 4 rather than the No. 3,” Clark said. “We would have liked to have been the one or the two (seed) because we would have had home-field advantage. We are fortunate to be in this situation and are excited and happy.”
The Mustangs are averaging 37.8 points per game. In their last five games, however, their defense gave up 36.2.
South Effingham would like to avoid another shootout but will have its hands full against the disciplined Greyhounds, whose lone loss was to third-seeded Stockbridge last week.
“I think it’s going to be a big challenge for our defense, but it’s going to be exciting,” Clark said. “They run the ball well but I think they like to pass the ball, and they have a really good quarterback. They have a good defensive line and I think they have a good secondary, too.
“I think they have really good receivers and they like to throw the ball a lot.”
While Clark appreciates his team’s late-game heroics this season, he wants it to bring a sense of urgency to the first three quarters of the game. In a win-or-go-home situation, Clark wants to see his team be the best version of itself from the very beginning.
“There’s no question about it, we need to execute,” Clark said. “We need to fight like we’ve fought all year long. We don’t need to wait until the fourth quarter to start playing at the level we are capable of playing and I think that has been the case sometimes this year.”
Although the Mustangs have a major challenge ahead of the them, history proves they can be a surprise team. In 2012, they went into the Class AAAA title race as a No. 4 seed and beat Westside-Macon on the road 43-33.
South Effingham continued its Cinderella story with a 41-28 victory over Westover but it ended in a 47-8 defeat at the hands of Monroe Area in the quarterfinals.
Mustangs quarterback Taylor Jackson remembers the sensational year because his older brother, Tyler Hagan, was a wide receiver on the 2012 team. Like Hagan, Jackson wants to lead the Mustangs deep into the postseason. He is fueled by the commitment of upperclassmen who haven’t seen the field as much.
“(My brother) and I always mess around because I tell him I am going to make it further that he did,” Jackson said. “The plan is to win the week. We want to make it back to Monday.
“Anything can happen in the playoffs. Everyone starts off 0-0. As a team we are hungry. I have teammates who didn’t get to play senior night and they deserve another game.”