SANDERSVILLE — South Effingham evened its Region 3-AAA football record in a very big way Friday night.
The Mustangs administered their own dose of punishment at Washington County’s fabled House of Pain, rallying to beat the Golden Hawks 23-14.
“This is one of the biggest wins in school history,” Mustangs coach Greg Manior said. “I’m extremely proud of what they have done.”
Said senior Gage Marks: “This is one of the best feelings I’ve ever had. I’m going to remember this the rest of my life.”
Marks ran for 118 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries, scoring twice in the second half as the Mustangs came back from deficits of 7-3 and 14-10.
Trailing 7-3 at the half, the Mustangs (4-1, 1-1 Region 3-AAA) got a jump start to the third quarter when Chris Zittrouer ran the kickoff 66 yards to the Golden Hawks 4-yard line. Marks scored to put South Effingham back in front.
The Golden Hawks answered later in the third, as sophomore quarterback Markeist Warthen hit senior tight end Antonio Danzy with a 56-yard touchdown pass. It was the only completion of the game for either team.
Burned by Zittrouer’s return, the Golden Hawks opted for a pooch kick and the Mustangs started at their own 40. They embarked on a 10-play, 60-yard drive to take the lead for good, with Frank Manker scoring from 10 yards out on a sweep after getting hit and stumbling his way into the end zone.
Manker’s TD run was the second straight critical third-down conversion of the drive as he scored on third-and-2. Facing third-and-1 at the Hawks 22, quarterback Jeff Hamilton picked up 4 yards on an option keeper.
The Mustangs forced the Golden Hawks to punt and then put the game away. Marks started the drive with a 40-yard rumble to the Washington County 27. On third-and-10 from that same spot, Manker picked up 6 yards and Marks pushed through for 5 yards on fourth-and-4. Two plays later, the Mustangs senior scored to give South Effingham a nine-point cushion.
On the ensuing possession, Warthen threw three straight incompletions before an illegal motion call made it fourth-and-15 at the Golden Hawks 23. Brandon Watts couldn’t hang on to a would-be first down throw on the next play, and the Mustangs took over.
“We stunk,” said Washington County coach Joel Ingram. “We didn’t come out and play. If we continue to play like this, this will be the result from now on. People in Washington County complain we don’t pass the ball enough. Well, we did tonight, and look what happened.”
South Effingham ran out the final 2:26 of the game, with Marks gaining 8 yards on third-and-3. The Mustangs drove to the Golden Hawks 5 before Hamilton took a knee to end it.
Marks had 99 yards in the second half as the Mustangs were held to 40 yards of offense and two first downs in 20 plays in the first half. South Effingham had 145 yards of offense over the final 24 minutes.
The Mustangs took advantage of a Golden Hawks’ mistake to take an early 3-0 lead. Brad Jenkins called for a fair catch on a punt but muffed it, and Tanner Birch recovered for South Effingham at the Washington County 20. The Mustangs settled for Zittrouer’s 33-yard field goal.
Washington County won a battle of field position to take the lead in the second quarter. After pinning the Mustangs at their own 5, the Golden Hawks went 42 yards in seven plays, with Jenkins going the final 7 yards with 2:51 to go in the half.
Washington County also turned the only South Effingham turnover into points. Jenkins picked off Hamilton and returned it 27 yards to the Golden Hawks 44, setting up Warthen’s TD strike to Danzy.
South Effingham will travel to Savannah next to face Benedictine in a Region 3-AAA (A) showdown.