Friday night marked the fourth week of North Myrtle Beach’s high school football season – but only their second game.
Across the state, cases of COVID-19 have forced teams to quarantine and cancel games. The Chiefs’ first game against Conway was canceled. A week later, the team managed to beat Loris. But their match against West Brunswick on September 3 was canceled, as was their scheduled game against St. James on Friday.
After five days of of making phones calls, the Chiefs finally found a team that could replace St. James on the schedule: the Wallace Rose-Hill Bulldogs out of Teachey, North Carolina, a town in Duplin County, about 40 minutes north of Wilmington.
The Bulldogs faced the Chiefs for the first time ever. They’re only the fifth North Carolina team North Myrtle Beach has ever played, and North Myrtle came out victorious with a 49-35 win.
“They were our 48th call,” said Chief Head Coach Matt Reel. “They were mutually interested. So hats off to them for wanting to play. We called a lot of different schools, tried to get games with a lot of different people, and for whatever reason, they wouldn’t come here and we couldn’t get it worked out to go there. I’m just happy our kids got to play, happy our seniors got some field, happy our kids got another game in before we get to our regional play.”
Reel said the team was trolling Twitter to find other programs who had lost their games but were still eligible to play before finally making a deal with the Bulldogs.
“We knew we had homecoming so we wanted our kids to be able to have that, wanted our fans and the student body to be able to have that,” Reel said. “So just trying to give them some sort of normalcy in all this craziness. And our kids, I think they soaked it up tonight. They did a good job. I’m just happy they got that memory tonight, winning their homecoming game.”
Like North Myrtle Beach, Wallace Rose-Hill’s opponents had to drop out of their game because of COVID. But head coach Kevin Motsinger was determined to get his kids on the field, even if it meant a two-hour journey across the state line.
“They need something positive in their life because the whole world’s negative right now,” Motsinger said. “And our kids worked way too hard to not have something positive. We just wanted these kids to play and they fought to the end.”
Early in the game, North Myrtle Beach took a comfortable lead, ending the first half with 21 points on the board against the Bulldog’s 7. Elijah Vereen rushed for two of the Chiefs’ first half touchdowns and Tavarius Hooks picked up a third. Meanwhile, Kanye Roberts, who did the heavy lifting for the Bulldogs, put up the North Carolina team’s single visit to the endzone that half.
“I thought the first half I think we looked like a team that wasn’t prepared; that’s on me,” Motsinger said. “No excuses, but we had a short week. And I did not have our kids prepared to get lined up against a power like that. I tried, I did my pitiful best. That ain’t on the kids, that’s on me. But our kids fought to the end, they showed a lot of heart, a lot of character, and that’s all you can ask. “
The Bulldogs made some adjustments and in the second half and managed to match the Chiefs’ scoring rate, with Roberts getting plenty of carries and most of the team’s touchdowns. Running back Antwon Montgomery also put some points on the board.
“We tried to make some adjustments, but that running back’s really good, coach does a great job, their offense line did a great job, they had a great scheme, defensively, their kids played hard,” said Motsinger. “But our kids didn’t give up and we just kept on fighting.”
Chiefs’ running back Elijah Vereen scored six touchdowns Friday night, and Tavarius Hook scored yet another. Several of the rushing touchdowns were set up with some passing yard gains from quarterback Cam Freeman connecting with wide receivers K.J. Stanley, Kris Webb and Chandler McCall.
Vereen and Freeman are both multi-talented. Vereen also plays defense and racked up several tackles. Freeman also plays baseball and racked up a scholarship to spend his time at Georgia Tech on the diamond.
Vereen is “just a dynamic guy,” said Reel. “He’s so underrated it’s not even funny. I get so mad every week ‘cause I think we got three or four guys that I know can really play at the next level and for whatever reason they’re not getting offers and I can’t explain it. I tell ‘em to keep making plays. The man had six touchdowns tonight, so I think that speaks for itself.”
Other players who Reel said could make it in college ball include T.J. Cox, Chandler McCall, K.J. Stanley, Jasir Sinkler, and Turner Warren.
For the rest of the season, Reel expects the team will continue to schedule games on the fly depending on which teams are available and which teams are in quarantine.
“The way things are set up, there’s no rules, there’s no barriers, there’s no ‘you have to do this, you have to do that,’” Reel said. “I think our region is gonna try and force us to play as many region games as we can. We need to play as many as we can. The biggest thing is just gotta be prepared. Our kids gotta keep showing up and believing in what we’re doing and keep working and we’ll be fine.”
Motsinger said his kids deserve to play football, and he plans to give them the chance whenever he can.
“So we’re just trying to make sure – no matter what happens – if the point team falls, we’re gonna go play somebody and give them an opportunity to play," he said. "Let’s compete and learn the lessons that life teaches you and football teaches you.”