Jason Owens saw his players’ reaction a little over a week ago.
The Myrtle Beach defensive coordinator had spent the previous five weeks without his best overall player after junior Cam Ward re-broke his right forearm on Oct. 1. But on the Monday leading up to the team’s second-round game against Aiken, Ward came back out for first-team reps.
It didn’t matter that a bright green and heavily padded cast canvassed the busted appendage. Or that everyone knew that underneath it, the metal plate that was inserted when he originally broke the bone as a sophomore was extended to provide even more protection.
Mighty Mouse was back.
“It’s the attitude. You should have seen the look on the defense’s faces when he came back and joined the starting defense for the first time,” Owens said. “He’s so explosive. We can do so much with him.”
Against Aiken, anticipation turned to production.
The 5-foot-8, 160-pound linebacker decimated the Green Hornets time and again. He snagged an interception and returned it for a touchdown. He recorded 1.5 sacks, the solo job resulting in a forced fumble recovered by Vinnie Cavalcante. Ward’s three solo tackles and two assists included 2.5 tackles for loss.
He did it all without the use of his right hand, which was covered up by that green cast. It was all the more reason for another opponent to overlook the undersized player with a huge role
“They probably try to take advantage of it. They try,” Ward said in advance of this week’s third-round game against Beaufort. “Once they do it, maybe they change their mind.”
Both sides of that coin have been going on for the bulk of the last two seasons after Ward first earned his starting spot. Despite missing eight games because of the arm injury and re-injury, he’s accumulated 62 career tackles and 20 tackles for loss. He’s been involved in five turnovers.
Most importantly, he’s as flexible as they come on where he starts each play.’
The sure-fire tackler is listed as a linebacker, but his speed allows him to drop back like a defensive back or turn into one of the sport’s smallest edge rushers.
“He brings a whole other element to what we do defensively,” head coach Mickey Wilson said. “He’s a guy who can cover in space. He tackles well in space. He’s also really good blitzer, too. He brings a whole new dynamic to what we do defensively. He’s fun to watch. He’s 5-foot-8. He looks like Mighty Mouse out there flying around.”
The odd thing about Ward’s absence was that it forced other players to improve in a hurry through increased reps.
Owens mentioned Tyron Bryant’s tackling and Ricky Escobar’s potential for the coming seasons after each took on more of the slack while Ward was recovering enough to re-join them. It was the next evolution for a unit still adjusting to a scheme change. Owens, who became the program’s defensive coordinator in 2004 under Scott Earley, had always run a 4-3 defense, putting four defensive linemen up front, with three linebackers behind them.
This year, for the first time, he swapped it out for the 3-4.
Ward went down four games into the swap. Yet, the Seahawks continued to get better.
No team has scored more than 19 points against Myrtle Beach since the Sept. 24 loss to Class 5A power Fort Dorchester, four opponents have been held to a touchdown or less, and then last week the team pitched its second shutout of the year with the 68-0 win over Aiken.
With Ward wreaking havoc, the Green Hornets managed just 15 yards of total offense.
Yeah, teammates were happy he was back.
“He just fits in — that one player that all coaches want,” lineman Dalton Epps said. “He listens. He does what he’s supposed to do. And he doesn’t get into any sort of trouble. We’re very happy that he’s back on our squad, and he’s already making an impact. I’m glad he’s back. I’m sure, as well, that he’s glad he’s back.”
Beaufort (10-2) at Myrtle Beach (9-1)
Time | 7:30 p.m.
Broadcast | WYNA-FM, 104.9
Last meeting | Myrtle Beach 49, Beaufort 37 (2020 playoffs)
About the game | Myrtle Beach is looking to put up its 10th 10-win season under Mickey Wilson, who was promoted to the program’s top job in 2009. In order to get there this fall, it will require the Seahawks to keep up the type of football that has got them to this point. In 519 offensive snaps this season, Myrtle Beach has committed just three turnovers and given up just 10 sacks. Those two Ryan Burger interceptions and a fumble by a rarely used running back on his only carry of the year have allowed Myrtle Beach to score in bunches and take advantage of most of its offensive possessions. Beaufort, though, is a team built on preventing just that. The Eagles’ defense has recorded 89 tackles for loss, 20 sacks and 18 turnovers in 12 games. Those momentum-changing plays have limited opposing offenses to an average of just 180 yards per game and given quarterback Tyler Haley and the rest of the Beaufort offense plenty great field position.