HINESVILLE — The Effingham County Rebels were on the verge of climbing out of a big hole Friday night when the Bradwell Institute Tigers slammed a lid on it.
The Tigers, who jumped to a 17-0 lead, needed two late fourth-quarter stops to hold on for a 31-28 victory in the Region 2-AAAAAA opener for both teams.
Effingham County (2-5, 0-1) narrowed the gap to 31-28 with 8:30 remaining after Keion Wallace hauled in an eight-yard scoring toss from Zach Garcia. The scoring play came at the end of a four-play, 80-yard drive after the Tigers (3-4, 1-0) missed a 48-yard field goal.
The Rebels got the ball twice more but were unable to get out of their territory. Both possessions are undone by big losses on quarterback sacks.
Bradwell Institute appeared headed for a comfortable victory when it scored its final points. They came on a 27-yard run by Kaimanni Gordon and Kenneth Lockhart extra point with 7:42 left in the third period.
Gordon’s touchdown came on the heels of a Rebels fumble at midfield.
Khiry Wallace gave Effingham County a much-needed spark with a sensational 90-yard punt return to start the fourth quarter. It, coupled with Zach Thomas’ third of four PATs, cut the gap to 31-21.
The Rebels weren’t able to muster much offensively in the first half. They punted five times and didn’t snap the ball on Bradwell Institute’s side of the field until late in the second quarter.
The Tigers, meanwhile, rolled up 361 total yards by halftime, including 215 on the ground on 26 attempts.
Bradwell Institute’s first points came via a 25-yard field goal by Lockhart to conclude the opening series of the game. It got another first-period score on Corrie Walker’s two-yard run that capped a 56-yard drive.
The Tigers’ lead reached 17-0 after Braxton Smith caught a 28-yard screen pass from Dariuse Cooper with 5:58 left before halftime.
Nearly two minutes later, the Rebels finally got on the scoreboard when Garcia connected with Khiry Wallace for a 33-yard scoring pass. The 60-yard drive was aided by an interference call on second-and-10 at the Tigers 44.
The scoring flurry continued when Gordon ripped off a 68-yard touchdown run for the Tigers. Then the Rebels answered with a touchdown strike of 27 yards from Garcia to Randy Scott.
Garcia finished with 306 passing yards. D’Andre Johnson caught seven passes for 111 yards.
The Rebels will play at Brunswick (3-4, 0-1) on Friday at 7:30 p.m.