Groves-SE 1Gage Marks scores for the Mustangs.
You’ll forgive Greg Manior for getting a little antsy while looking up at the scoreboard late in the fourth quarter Friday night.
A year ago, in his first game as South Effingham head football coach, his Mustangs fell in the opener against Groves.
But this time, the Mustangs, thanks to a punishing ground game and some opportunistic play, maintained a comfortable margin in a 35-21 season-opening win.
“I had a flashback at 1:52,” Manior said, noting the visiting Rebels drive into South Effingham territory.
This comeback attempt was thwarted as Dominique Chance picked off Cameron Tillman, for the second time, with 40 seconds to play. It was one of three turnovers the Mustangs forced. South Effingham also blocked two punts and recovered an onsides kick.
“We were fortunate with some of the plays we got,” Manior said. “(Groves) has a hard, scrappy team.”
After Gage Marks scored the first of his three touchdowns to tie the game at 7-7 in the first quarter, Maurice Lexlew delivered a wake-up call. He sprinted 80 yards through the South Effingham defense, giving Groves a 14-7 lead.
From that point on, however, the Mustangs took control.
“The momentum switched a little bit,” Manior said. “Our guys never got their heads down after that. Our older guys told them to just make the next play, and we made the next four or five.”
Those next four or five plays led to 21 unanswered second-quarter points for the Mustangs. A fumble set up Marks’ second touchdown, a 2-yard run, and Marks also converted the two-point play after a Groves penalty wiped out a missed kick attempt.
Frank King recovered the first blocked punt, setting up the Mustangs at the Rebels 37, and that led to another Marks 2-yard run. The second blocked punt, recovered by Ethan Tanner, led to a 4-yard Frank Manker touchdown and a 28-14 halftime lead.
Groves cut the gap to 28-21 as Tillman hit Reggie Reeves for 29 yards on fourth down, and Derrick Isabell plowed in from 6 yards out on the next play.
Tillman threw for 148 yards and a touchdown and also ran for 44 yards. He was sacked twice and pressured constantly, but his scrambles kept Groves' final drive alive until Chance ended it with his second interception.
“He is phenomenal,” Manior said of Tillman, who finished with 148 yards and a touchdown passing. “He’s a great athlete and a great quarterback. He’s a force to be reckoned with.”
South Effingham responded, again relying on its ground game and defense after holding Groves on fourth down. Manker hobbled in with an 8-yard TD run with 2:05 to play to ice the game.
The Mustangs piled up 302 yards of offense, 294 coming on the ground. Manker ran for 101 yards on 18 carries and Marks had 98 yards on 15 attempts. Jace Daley added 44 yards on four rushes. Jeff Hamilton was 1-of-6 passing for 8 yards and ran for 20 more. Wesley Ricks ran five times for 25 yards.
“For the first game, I was pretty happy,” Manior said. “Offensively, our guys played hard and the offensive line came off the ball. We’ve got a good mix of running backs.”
South Effingham committed eight penalties, six of them while on offense.
But getting to celebrate a win in the opener isn’t bad, either.
“It’s a better start than last year,” Manior said.
First downs 12 15
Rushes-Yards 35-165 51-294
Passing Yards 148 8
Passes 6-15-2 1-8
Total Yards 313 302
Penalties 6-41 8-70
Punts 2-23.5 4-31.0
Fumbles/lost 2/1 1/0
1st 2nd 3rd 4th Tot.
Groves 14 0 0 7 21
SEHS 7 21 0 7 35
Groves — Cliff Taylor 21 pass from Cameron Tillman (Tillman kick)
South Effingham — Gage Marks 19 run (Chris Zittrouer kick)
GHS — Maurice Lexlew 80 run (Tillman kick)
SEHS — Marks 2 run (Marks run)
SEHS — Marks 2 run (Zittrouer kick)
SEHS — Frank Manker 4 run (kick failed)
GHS — Derrick Isabell 6 run (Tillman kick)
SEHS — Manker 8 run (Zittrouer kick)
GHS — Lexlew 11-88, Tillman 12-44, Isabell 11-30, Taylor 1-3; SEHS — Manker 18-101, Marks 15-98, Jace Daley 8-44, Wesley Ricks 5-25, Jeff Hamilton 3-20, Robbie Collum 1-6
GHS — Tillman 6-15-2, 148. SEHS — Hamilton, 1-6, 8.
GHS —Taylor 2-63, Eric Greene 2-41, Reggie Reeves 1-29, Lexlew 1-13. SEHS — Ricks 1-8