We are trying to establish something here and they will always be part of it.Mustangs head coach Nathan Clark
GRAY — Surprisingly, South Effingham’s seniors didn’t look the least bit tired when their season came to a cold, rainy conclusion Friday night. After all, they spent several months and 11 games raising the bar of expectations for their team.
Mustangs head coach Nathan Clark hugged every one of the seniors, led by quarterback Taylor Jackson and lineman Austin Blaske, on his way to the locker room following a 26-13 first-round Class AAAAA playoff loss to Jones County at Greyhound Stadium.
“These seniors are special,” Clark said. “They set an example for everyone to follow. We are trying to establish something here and they will always be a part of it.”
In their first year under Clark, the Mustangs (6-5), who had won just four of their previous 32 contests, jumped to a 5-0 start that included a dramatic 29-26 overtime victory over Class AAA No. 8 Jenkins. They also pinned the lone loss on Class AAAA powerhouse West Laurens, coming from behind to win 31-30.
“It’s been such a fun season,” Clark said. “It kind of petered out toward the end but we accomplished a lot of things. We beat some good football teams.”
Even while trailing the Greyhounds 26-6 late in the third quarter, South Effingham’s players, especially the defenders, remained enthusiastic, bouncing up and down in the mud before every play.
“These guys are fighters,” Clark said. “They showed it every week. I am so grateful for these players and this coaching staff.”
Friday’s contest got off to a promising start for the Mustangs but the Greyhounds (10-1), the Region 4-AAAAA champions, proved to be too powerful. After surrendering a four-play, 61-yard touchdown drive on the opening series, the Mustangs answered by moving methodically toward the Jones County end zone, advancing 59 yards in 10 plays.
Running back Cameron Edwards capped the drive with a five-yard touchdown run but a blocked PAT left the Mustangs a point short of a tie.
The Greyhounds struck quickly again the second time they got the ball. They returned a squib kick to the South Effingham 21 and scored two plays later on a 13-yard run by Andrew Carner.
The Mustangs responded with another lengthy drive but it ended with an errant 35-yard field goal.
The pivotal play of the game occurred on the next snap as Carner got loose for an 80-yard touchdown run that upped Jones County’s lead to 20-6..
Later in the second period, Matthew Sheffield broke free over for a 50-yard touchdown run, ending the Greyhounds’ scoring.
South Effingham, meanwhile, didn’t get into the end zone again until the final two minutes of the third quarter when Jackson connected with Noah Hoang on a 40-yard bomb.
The Mustangs started the second half with a drive to the Jones County 6 but didn’t sore.
“We got close a couple of times but didn’t finish,” Clark said. “We had a few mistakes. The conditions weren’t good for throwing the ball.”
Led by senior linebacker Hunter Tindall, who made tackles sideline to sideline, the Mustangs muzzled the Greyhounds in the second half.
“I’m proud of the defense,” Clark said. “Hunter got hurt early in the game and I thought he was done. He came back, though, and played like an animal.”
Looking ahead to next season, Clark voiced no trepidation about moving up the Class AAAAAA. Last week, the Georgia High School Association announced that the Mustangs will join Region 2-AAAAAA with Effingham County, Bradwell Institute, Brunswick, Glynn Academy, Richmond Hill and Statesboro.
“We accept the challenge,” he said. “