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Effingham Co. downs Devils
Statesboro

Box Score
ECHS        7    0    0    7  — 14
SHS        0    7    6    0  — 13

First Quarter
ECHS_Bartley 30 run (Heller kick), 9:08
Second Quarter
SHS_Lee 74 interception return (Miller kick), 1:17
Third Quarter
SHS_Davis 42 run (kick blocked), 10:25
Fourth Quarter
ECHS_Bartley 1 run (Heller kick), 6:06

    ECHS    SHS
First Downs    15    12
Total Yards    291    225
Rushes-Yards    42-198    35-210
Passing    93    15
Comp-Att-Int    9-21-1    4-11-2
Turnovers    2    3
Penalties-Yards    9-80    6-54

INDIVIDUAL LEADERS
RUSHING_ECHS, Bartley 27-187. SHS, Davis 12-132
PASSING_ECHS, Brown 9-21-1-93. SHS, Kleinlein 4-11-2-15
RECEIVING_ECHS King 3-34. SHS, Osborne 3-13

    Effingham County's Nieem Bartley was about all the offense ECHS received, but he was all the Rebels ended up needing. Playing in his final high school game, Bartley ran for 187 yards on 27 carries and scored both Effingham touchdowns.


Three keys to Effingham County's victory over the Blue Devils...

    SNAKE-BITTEN: It’s been said many times just how many things have worked against the Devils this season. In the end, it seemed eerily fitting that even a penalty on an opponent found a way to adversely affect Statesboro. Sometimes, things just aren’t meant to be.
    SOFT OPEN: Statesboro looked lost offensively at times in the first half. But for all those troubles, the Devils looked like vintage SHS in powering the ball past Effingham County for much of the second half. If the Devils could have figured things out just a bit sooner, things could have turned out differently.
    ONE MAN SHOW: The Statesboro defense executed its game plan well. By intercepting one pass and forcing a fumble after a completed pass, the Devils shut down the Effingham pass game and made the Rebels one-dimensional. Unfortunately for Statesboro, that one dimension was Nieem Bartley, and his incredible singular effort proved to be just enough for the Rebels.

It seemed as if Statesboro caught every tough break it could catch throughout the 2014 season.

Unfortunately, the season finale proved to be no different.

Statesboro's Ryan Miller appeared to have kicked a game-winning 20 yard field goal with 22 seconds remaining, but a dead ball penalty on Effingham County forced the down to be replayed. Miller's second attempt was pulled to the left, and Effingham escaped with a 14-13 victory Friday night at Womack Field.

"It's tough to know what to say," SHS coach Steve Pennington said. "We just haven't had a whole lot go in our favor."

The Blue Devils finished their season with a 2-8 record (2-6, Region 3-AAAAA) and will miss out on the state playoffs for the first time since 1998.

Winding down the final minutes of the season, it seemed as if the Devils would at least be able to go out on a high note.

Nieem Bartley (27 carries, 187 yards) powered in from a yard out to give the Rebels (6-4, 4-4) the lead with 6:06 to play, but the Devils stormed back.

Suddenly cruising with a wishbone running game that had struggled all season, Mahlon Williams and Jaylon Davis took turns ripping off gains as Statesboro moved into Effingham's red zone in the final minute.

The Devils reached the Effingham 2, but a fumbled snap on third and goal forced Statesboro to go for the field goal.

"It's tough the way things ended," Pennington said. "But there are positives moving forward. We played our kind of football on that final drive. That's the kind of spirit and execution we need to have as we move forward to next season."

Early on, it looked as though Statesboro wouldn't have a chance in the closing seconds.

Statesboro received the game's opening kickoff, but fumbled on its own 35 - the first of three SHS turnovers - on its third snap. The Devil defense nearly held, but Bartley busted loose on a fourth-down attempt, scampering 30 yards to open the scoring.

The Devils' offense continued to struggle throughout the half and had just 48 yards through two quarters.

Luckily, the defense stepped up. Rickey Lee stepped in front of a short pass by Phillip Brown and rode a wave of defenders-turned-blockers 74 yards to make it a 7-7 game at halftime.

Statesboro's offense turned the corner in the second half and started eating up yards.

Early in the third quarter, Davis broke free for a 42-yard touchdown run.

But the ensuing play proved pivotal as Miller's extra-point attempt was blocked, setting the stage for the razor-thin margin.

"In past years when we were winning a lot, we would say that the margin for winning was so small," Pennington said. "When things are going tough, it can be that the margin for losing is so small."

Statesboro attempted to extend its lead in the fourth quarter, but Effingham's Robbie Garvin intercepted a Kleinlein pass in Rebel territory.

Bartley then put Effingham on his back, carrying six times on the game-winning drive and racking up 22 yards on his final two carries of the night.

Statesboro still had all three of its timeouts following Miller's late miss, but Effingham again benefitted from one of its own penalties as nearly 13 seconds ran off of the clock on a negated 80-yard run by Bartley. The points were of no concern to the Rebels, and the elapsed time prevented Statesboro from forcing a punt and possibly setting up one final play.

"There's not much more to say," Pennington said. "But I do want to say that I'm proud of our guys. We played the kind of tough football that we expect to play tonight. We were in it until the very end. It didn't work out, but that is the kind of effort that will benefit us moving forward."

Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9408.