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Carolina Forest's Mason Garcia scores in the 28-43 loss to Myrtle Beach. Photo by Janet Morgan/janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com

If you showed up a few minutes late for Friday's Socastee-Carolina Forest matchup — as many did in the standing-room-only homecoming crowd — you missed the story of the game.

Fortunately for the home fans, they got to see it over and over for the remainder of the first half and start the celebration early in the Panthers' 63-0 shutout of the Braves.

With the crowd still filing in at kickoff, Carolina Forest quarterback Mason Garcia connected on a 60-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Watkins on the first snap from scrimmage.

"We always want to come out strong early," said Watkins, who later added a rushing TD to the Panthers' offensive explosion. "That's about as strong and as early as you can get."

The opposite was true for the Braves, whose opening drive saw four penalties, including one that nullified a long TD pass. The Braves were forced to punt, and the game was essentially over.

Carolina Forest's offense scored on all seven of its first half possessions while the defense shut down Socastee's triple-option attack and forced Socastee turnovers and punts.

"I felt like our guys had a great week of practice and they were well prepared," Carolina Forest coach Marc Morris said. "That's a different offense that we don't see a lot of."

As it turned out, the Panthers didn't see a lot of it Friday either. The defense repeatedly got the ball back into the hands of Garcia, who threw for over 200 yards and three TDs.

The final blow came in the second quarter when Carolina Forest scored three touchdowns in a span of less than 1 1/2 minutes. David Legette started it off with his second TD run of the night.

Socastee fumbled the ensuing kickoff and running back Raquon Brown got into the action with his first TD. The Braves were intercepted on their next play and Mo Belfield's TD run made it 49-0 at halftime.

The second half more closely resembled a JV game with a running clock and lots of clean jerseys taking turns the field — the perfect ending to a near-perfect game for the Panthers.

"We wanted to show after the Myrtle Beach loss that we're a better team than that," Watkins said. "The way we played tonight, I think we could have beaten anybody in the state."

Or at least the region, where 10th-ranked Carolina Forest (4-1, 1-0 region) finds itself in the unfamiliar role of favorite following its region-opening performance.

"I don't know about that," Morris said. "Our goal is to go 5-0 in the region and you can't do that unless you win the first one. We will take this one and get ready for next week."

Carolina Forest must travel to South Florence next Friday. Socastee (1-4, 0-1), which was shut out for the fourth time this season, plays host to Conway.

Contact Charles D. Perry at 843-488-7236

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