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Region title no kick for Mustangs
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South Effingham boys soccer coach Paul Richards and the Mustangs open the Class AAA state playoffs at home Friday against Columbus. - photo by File photo

The Region 3-AAA boys soccer championship may not be enough for the South Effingham Mustangs.

The Mustangs captured their first region title two weeks ago, beating Cross Creek. They haven’t spent much time celebrating it.

“They want more,” coach Paul Richards said of his team. “Last year’s team was runner-up in the region, and we stood with that trophy and were not happy about it. This year, when push came to shove, they did something about it.”

The Mustangs fell to Mary Persons in double overtime last year in the first round of the Class AAA playoffs — “there’s a lot of boys who remember that,” Richards said — and open the tournament this year with a formidable No. 4 seed. Columbus went 10-4 for the year and 8-2 in Region 2 this year.

“Columbus came one goal, one penalty kick, away from being the No. 2 seed,” Richards said. “They’re two through four seeds knocked each other off.”

The other coaches Richards has talked to, in an effort to find out more about his first-round opponent, respect the Blue Devils.

“A team like Columbus is going to be talented,” he said. “They’re young, but I don’t underestimate that. I am expecting them to be every bit as tough as I’m expecting us to be. I don’t think any team at this stage will be easy.”

The keys and strategy for the playoffs are simple, according to Richards. Putting them into action is the hard part.

“It comes down to controlling your emotions and playing to your strengths,” he said. “You have to take advantage of the one or two key opportunities to make a difference. It could be making a stop or it could be making a shot and to play as relentlessly as we can for 80 minutes and beyond.”

But Richards has liked the leadership and chemistry of the side he has and trusts his team leaders to be able to pull things together quickly in the face of danger.

“There are no timeouts in soccer,” he said. “This is a team that has met my expectations, and that’s not an easy thing to do. I have high expectations, and I’m pretty demanding. I just want them to work their hardest.”

Practices of late have taken on a different tone. Richards hasn’t backed off this team. Rather, he’s let them crack the whip.

“I asked the leaders to take ownership of the team a little bit,” he said. “They took ’em out for about 30 minutes and ran them hard. It’s great to have a team that doesn’t need me for every minute. It’s clear they’re focused.”

Last week, the Mustangs worked on specific areas and spent less time conditioning. Richards also held some guys out of practice to give them time to recoup from any injuries. But that downtime is over now for a team seeking more than a region championship.

“It’s time,” Richards said. “It’s now or never.”

Class AAA soccer playoffs 

When: Friday, 5 p.m.
Where: The Corral
Who: Columbus vs. South Effingham
Records: Columbus (10-4), South Effingham (10-5)
Tickets: $7

When: Thursday
Where: Columbus High School
Who: Columbus vs. South Effingham
Records: Columbus (11-3-2), South Effingham (7-6-3)
Tickets: $7