Improved defense has been a bright spot for Effingham County this football season.


But slowing down sixth-ranked Richmond Hill was another matter.


The Rebels were equally gashed on the ground and through the air during a 45-14 loss to the Wildcats on Friday at Rebel Field.


"It’s tough to play people like that when you make mistakes, especially early on, and they jumped on us," ECHS coach Buddy Holder said.


The Rebels were coming off a shutout of South Effingham two weeks ago and held Howard to 17 points but fell short 17-14 on Oct. 3.


But the Wildcats, last year’s Class 6A state Final Four participants, piled up 500 total yards -- 255 through the air and 245 on the ground.


Richmond Hill averaged 13 yards a play while scoring on six straight possessions -- five touchdowns and a field goal -- to begin the game.


It was 31-0 at halftime, 38-0 after the Wildcats’ first play of the third quarter and Richmond Hill had a chance to play backups for most of the second half.


ECHS was overmatched from the start and a lost fumble while receiving its second kickoff allowed the Wildcats to score two touchdowns within 82 seconds.


The Rebels didn’t make their initial first down until 9:37 of the second quarter during their third full possession. By that time, they already trailed 21-0. They had 41 offensive yards in the first half -- 32 coming on a completion from quarterback Zach Garcia to Xayvier Coppock.


To add to the pain, a couple of former ECHS players who transferred to Richmond Hill last season were a big part of the Wildcats’ success. Running back Ashaud Roberson ran for 123 yards and a touchdown -- all in the first half.


And Kenyan Hunter, a defensive back who played quarterback in Wildcat offensive formation, scored a TD on a 4-yard run.


Richmond Hill didn’t have to rely on the run. Quarterback Tyler Coleman completed 14 of 17 passes for 230 yards and two TDs. Wide receiver Jordan Clark, who consistently ran past the secondary, caught touchdown passes of 44 and 66 yards and had another potential scoring reception called back because of a penalty.


Leading 38-0, Richmond Hill appeared ready to score another touchdown but amazingly Rebels defensive back Miquel Allen wrestled the ball away from a Wildcat receiver and returned it 85 yards for a touchdown.


ECHS tacked on a late touchdown by recovering a fumble at the 17. Three plays later, backup quarterback Matthew Ford threw a 6-yard TD pass to Isaiah Bell.


It wasn’t much, but the Rebels managed a 14-14 tie in the second half.


"I thought our kids continued to fight hard in the second half and that’s what we’re going to build on," Holder said.


ECHS will be back in action Friday against Glynn Academy, a 35-3 winner over South Effingham.


The Rebels have lost their last 13 meetings to Glynn and haven’t beaten the Red Terrors since 2003.


Glynn (4-3, 2-1 Region 2-6A) has won two games in a row this season.