STATESBORO — The broad shoulders of Effingham County's defense carried the Rebels to a 20-15 victory Friday night.
Despite being limited to one first down in the opening half and getting outgained in total yards 312-120, Effingham County defeated Statesboro with a bend-but-don't-break resolve that resulted in three crucial turnovers.
One of the key defensive plays was a 35-yard fumble return for a touchdown by lineman Joseph Solomon midway through the second quarter. Solomon stripped the ball from running back Sage Reese as he entered a pile at the of scrimmage.
The defensive score came just 13 seconds after Necos Gadsden hauled in a 37-yard touchdown pass from Jerid Stokes on a crossing pattern. Gadsden's score, the first of the junior tight end's career, was set up by an interception by linebacker Zekeil Walls at midfield.
The Blue Devils (2-2) answered the Rebels' flurry of points with an eight-play, 65-yard drive that featured a heavy dose of power football. Bruising wishbone halfback Corey McCullough got the call seven straight times, scoring from two yards out with 2:50 left in the first half.
Statesboro almost moved in front on the opening drive of the game but the Rebels thwarted them. On third-and-goal at the 5, halfback Davardrion Lipsey fumbled and Julian Legrande came up with the ball after a mad scramble in the backfield that ended 26 yards behind the line of scrimmage.
The Rebels started the third quarter with their best drive. They advanced 62 yards in 10 plays, the final one a four-yard scoring run by Desmond House. The key play was a 11-yard reception by D'Andre Johnson on third down at the Statesboro 16.
Statesboro kept the ball all but four plays in the fourth quarter but didn't score until 56 second left. Will Yawn tallied the touchdown with a seven-yard catch.
The Blue Devils' hopes for victory ended with an unsuccessful onside kick.
Effingham County is set to play Burke County (2-2) in Waynesboro on Friday. The Bears won last year's meeting 35-19.
Holder and his staff visited Burke County during the offseason to talk offensive philosophy. Their Bears run a fast-paced offense.
"We're going to see some of the same kind of power football. They just get the plays off faster," Holder said.