DEXTER — With his team facing a steep climb Friday night, South Effingham head coach Nathan Clark called on “The Hilltopper.”
The trick play in the closing seconds of the first half set up a 43-yard field goal by Liam Rickman that cut the Mustangs’ deficit against West Laurens to 21-10. It also gave them some momentum en route to a thrilling 31-30 comeback victory that featured a late goal-line stand.
“I got that play from Western Kentucky. I have a friend who coached there,” Clark said. “We work on it a good bit and it seemed like the perfect time to call it.”
During the key play, South Effingham, 4-0 for the first time since 2015, lined up in a formation that made it look like it was content to run out the clock. Instead, Adam Napier ripped off a 19-yard run around the left end that put Rickman in position for the field goal on the final play of the second quarter.
Napier’s jaunt accounted for nearly half of the Mustangs’ first-half rushing yards.
South Effingham played much better offensively in the second half and was poised to force a 24-24 tie after Hoang hauled in a four-yard touchdown pass from Taylor Jackson midway through the fourth quarter. Rickman missed the PAT, however, leaving the Mustangs a point shy of the lead.
On their next possession following a three-and-out series by the Raiders (3-1), the Mustangs scored again on a six-yard run by Rocko Griffin. The touchdown was followed by a two-point conversion reception by Zach Taylor that put South Effingham up 31-24 with less than four minutes left.
The Raiders (3-1), though, needed only six plays to cover 80 yards and get back into the end zone on a 19-yard run by Shonta Burney Jr.
At that point, West Laurens head coach Kagan McClain shunned a game-tying PAT and went for the win but the two-play play was unsuccessful. A bobbled snap threw off the timing of a run by Daniel Dorsey that was easily stuffed by Brayden Bell and D’Angelo Jackson on the right side of the defense.
With nearly two minutes left, the Mustangs’ victory was still not assured until after Stephen Kraeling recovered an onside kick. That allowed the Mustangs to run out the clock.
“I’m so proud of these guys,” Clark said. “They are a team. They stuck together, kept fighting and picked each other up.
“When the offense was down, the defense picked them up. After Liam, who had the big field goal, missed the extra point, he got picked up when we got the two-point conversion. We did the same thing (in a 29-26 overtime victory) against Jenkins.”
The Mustangs, who still haven’t turned the ball over this season, finished with 394 total yards, including 263 passing. Jackson connected on 14 of 23 attempts with three touchdowns.
Noah Hoang caught all three scoring tosses, finishing with five grabs for 116 yards. His first touchdown in the second period covered 61 yards and came after the ball was tipped to him by a defensive back.
Taylor had six receptions for 104 yards and the crucial two-point grab.
Griffin led all South Effingham rushers with 77 yards on 12 attempts. He also caught two passes for 25 yards.
“I’m so happy for these players, fans and the South Effingham community,” Clark said.
The Mustangs will host Pierce County on Friday at 7:30 p.m. The Bears are ranked No. 4 in Class AAA.