The tension was palpable in the final game of the season for Statesboro High School against longtime rivals Effingham County.
The game began as a defensive battle, but the Rebels were able to grind out a 23-3 win to finish the season undefeated at home.
Thanks to a 42-5 Ware County win over Brunswick Thursday night, the Rebels were eliminated from playoff contention, however, pride was still on the line at Rebel Field.
Effingham County (7-3, 5-3 Region 3-AAAAA) ran the ball effectively all night, finishing with 205 yards on the ground. Statesboro running back Jalen Davis led the team with 59 yards on the ground on 14 carries.
The Blue Devils defense forced three turnovers, but couldn't capitalize on offense. In the final three games of the season, Statesboro's (2-8, 2-6) offense was outscored 111-9.
"I just felt calm and confident in the way our guys were playing all night and thought that we were going to pull this game out and win. 10-3 with eight minutes to go in their field position, we had our chances," Statesboro head coach Steve Pennington said. "We came over here to win a football game and set a mark with our younger players and leave a mark with our seniors. Two of those three things happened here tonight."
The final score of the game was a bit misleading. The Rebels added two touchdowns late to put the game away, including a 26-yard touchdown run by Effingham quarterback Phillip Brown with just 53 second left to play. The touchdown run would give the Rebels a 23-3 lead. Brown, who passed for two touchdowns against Statesboro, finished the game with 130 yards on the ground and 91 yard through the air.
The Rebels scored first in the second quarter. Junior kicker Mckenzie Stewart hit a 23-yard field goal to give Effingham a 3-0 lead.
The Rebels would score again with 1:19 left before the half on a Brown 12-yard pass to receiver Mario Gant. Gant had a game-high six receptions and 59 yards receiving.
Blue Devils kicker Ryan Miller closed the gap in the third quarter with his third 40-plus yard field goal of the season. Miller's 41-yard field goal helped trim the Rebels' lead to 10-3.
"Special teams on his (Ryan Miller) part was really special. We're really going to miss him," said Pennington. "He helps us with field position and kickoffs in the endzone. He makes a difference."
The Blue Devils had their chances to tie the game up in the fourth quarter but just couldn't muster enough offense to put the ball in the endzone.
Statesboro tried to go for it on 4-and-7 from the Rebels 43-yard line with less than eight minutes to play in the game on a run up the middle, but Effingham stopped Statesboro short of the first down marker and took over on downs.
On the ensuing drive, Brown would put the game away on a 15-yard touchdown pass to Jake Dangerfield.
"Well we didn't want to try a long field goal because we would still need two scores. We had success with the inside trap earlier, but we just weren't able to execute," Pennington said.
Statesboro will have to regroup and get ready for the 2016 season. The Blue Devils will lose 18 seniors from this year's squad.
Horace Holloman may be reached at (912) 489-9408.
SHS 0 0 3 0 — 3
ECHS 0 10 x 13 — 23
ECHS_Stewart 23 field goal, 10:37
ECHS_M. Gant 12 pass from Brown (Stewart kick), 1:19
SHS_Miller 43-yard field goal, 2:13
ECHS_Dangerfield 15 pass from Brown (Stewart kick), 3:06
ECHS_Brown 26 run (conversion failed), :53
First downs 13 14
Total Yards 177 296
Rushes-Yards 118 205
Passing 59 91
Comp-Att-Int 6-16-2 9-16-1
Turnovers 4 3
Penalties-Yards 4-30 4-30
RUSHING_SHS: Davis 14-59, Gordon 6-21, Wiggins 5-17; ECHS: Brown 14-130, Johnson 12-56, Gant 2-17
Passing_SHS: Wiggins 6-19-59-2-0; ECHS: Brown 9-16-91-1-2
Receiving_SHS: Hunter 2-28, Lanier 2-16, Gordon 1-10; ECH: Gant 6-59, Dangerfield 2-25