By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
A cross-county rivalry, a couple of first-year head coaches on opposing sidelines and a matchup with region implications — Friday’s highly anticipated boys soccer game between Effingham County and South Effingham just became that much more intriguing.
So strike up the band — the Mustangs band is slated to perform for SEHS’ home opener — the action at The Corral kicks off with the girls game at 5 p.m. followed by the boys game at 7.
“I’m excited. I have a lot of respect with what they have over there,” SEHS coach DaKota Paradice said. “With that being said, we have a lot of talent too.”
“Even before the season starts, the kids are talking about the game, ‘Who’s there? Who’s back? How did they do in club?’ ” ECHS coach Austin Czachowski said. “You don’t need a rah-rah speech for this game.”
Paradice takes over for coach Matt Hunnewell, who directed the Mustangs to three straight Region 2-AAAAA championships and a 5-1-1 record last season before COVID hit.
Czachowski was an assistant for two years under head coach Matt Vickery. The Rebels were 6-2-1 with a win over Region 2-AAAAAA powerhouse Richmond Hill when spring sports were cancelled.
One of the games played in 2020 provided a memorable night in the local soccer series. ECHS scored twice in the opening seven minutes. SEHS roared back to get the match even and in the final 10 seconds Rebel goalie Elijah Clark stopped offensive-minded Riley Quick, who walked in all alone from the corner with an opportunity for the game-winner.
In 2019, the teams played to a 1-1 deadlock.
Both those games were non-region affairs, but now the schools reside in 2-AAAAAA and will play each other home and away in games that count in the region standings.
This season, South is off to a 3-1 start with shutout victories over Bryan County, Vidalia and Calvary. The Mustangs lost to Savannah Christian 2-1.
Chase Hoffman and Liam Rickman have shared the goaltending and the aptly named Quick brothers, Riley and Tyler, are central figures in the midfield.
“(The name Quick) matches what they do,” said Paradice, laughing.
Paradice said depth describes the Mustangs’ strength. In just four games, nine different players have scored.
ECHS enters with a 2-2 record, including a gritty shootout win against Statesboro, a 10-0 rout of Bryan County and losses to Calvary and region powerhouse Glynn Academy.
The Rebels opened the season with a 10-0 win in a scrimmage against Bryan County.
Returning starters Daniel Castillo, Fernando Lopez and Grant Oliver lead ECHS, but Czachowski will be depending on freshmen, including goalie Ethan Smart, to grow up quickly.
“We’re definitely a young team,” Czachowski said. “A lot of these kids are learning on the job.”
And learning can accelerate in big games. The tie with South Effingham gave the Rebels some confidence last season.
“(The SEHS tie) was a springboard for the rest of the season,” Czachowski said.