One BC is in their rear-view mirror. Another is staring at them, dead ahead.
The South Effingham Mustangs football team, fresh off its thrilling win over the Benedictine Cadets and former Mustangs coach Bob Herndon, will play host to Burke County on Friday night.
Since losing their first two games of the year, both to Class AA teams, the Bears have bounced back. They have reeled off five straight wins, including a 15-13 triple-overtime victory over Harlem. Burke beat Liberty County 20-7 two weeks ago and is coming off a 24-0 win over Hephzibah.
“From this point on,” Mustangs coach Greg Manior said, “everything is hard. But that’s the way football is. Burke County is big, strong and fast.”
But the Mustangs too have been able to rebound from a setback, evidenced by their win over Washington County in the House of Pain a week after succumbing to Cross Creek’s fourth-quarter rally.
South survived Richmond Hill’s comeback attempt two weeks ago, holding off the Wildcats for a 17-7 win and then rallying to knock off Benedictine 24-17 in dramatic fashion last week.
“It makes us feel good as coaches that we have a team that doesn’t give up when things go bad,” Manior said. “They look forward to the next play.”
That loss to Cross Creek, a game the Mustangs believe they should have won, has stung, and that feeling has spurred them to try to avoid that sensation in the future.
“They don’t want to have that feeling again,” Manior said.
But after such a physical and emotional battle against Benedictine last week, Manior and his staff are trying to get the Mustangs to put that game behind them as quickly as possible. Not being able to get over the win over BC could lead to not getting a victory over another BC this week.
“I’m worried a little bit,” Manior admitted Tuesday. “I won’t feel better about it until (this) afternoon. BC was such a big win. But we have to concentrate on Burke County and the ramifications if we don’t know what we’re supposed to do.”
The winner of the Burke-South Effingham matchup has an advantage in winning the subregion, though the Bears (5-2, 2-0) still have to play the Cadets and the Mustangs (6-1, 2-0) have yet to play Liberty County.
A win over Burke would allow the Mustangs to control their own destiny. Finding an answer for the Bears’ Cornelius Washington is expected to be difficult as well.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound senior defensive end has committed to Georgia and is ranked by rivals.com as the No. 5 prospect in the state.
“He’s a good player,” Manior said. “He controls the line of scrimmage. He’s a great athlete, and he’s made a lot of people look silly. He’s the best defensive end we’ve seen so far this year. We’ve got to do our best to block him and stay on him.”
Last week, the Mustangs ground out two clutch drives, the first leading to a game-tying field goal and the second to the eventual game-winning touchdown. In between, they both made and got breaks they didn’t let go to waste.
“I like the way the kids have responded so far,” Manior said. “It’s been a good year and we have so much football left to play. We’re at the point we need to be at and we need to keep progressing.”
But in a rugged region such as Region 3-AAA, there is no magic scheme, no complex formation to outfox an opponent. Instead, the key is simple, according to Manior.
“It goes back to us playing hard-nosed, fundamental football,” he said.