Carolina Forest was already in uncharted territory.
The Panthers decided to just keep going.
Marc Morris’ team advanced to the lower state finals for the first time in school history with a physical 41-14 victory over Goose Creek Friday night in the third round of the Class 5A playoffs. Carolina Forest used a monster second quarter to create a wide margin, running all over the Gators’ defense behind a powerful offensive line that had its best game of the year at a most opportune time.
“We rely on our O-line,” quarterback Mason Garcia said after he and running backs David Legette and Raquon Brown teamed up for season-high 405 yards on the ground. “They came up big and did what they do every week. It starts in the weight room. They’re the hardest-working guys on the field, and it shows.”
After rushing for 247 yards per game during the regular season and the first two playoff games, the win over Goose Creek blew any of those weeks out of the water. Legette had 245 yards and two touchdowns. Garcia put up 133 and a score. And Brown, who had just two touches late, added 27 yards and a touchdown.
The trio averaged 9.2 yards per carry as a collective.
More importantly, Garcia and Legette led an onslaught that put Goose Creek away early.
In a span of less than three minutes toward the end of the first half, Carolina Forest dropped 20 points. It started by stuffing the Gators on fourth-down plays in Panther territory twice, accelerated with a Connor Meehan interception and then maxed out when a pooch kickoff ended up in Carolina Forest hands and Garcia and Trevor Lavallee connected on the next play to make it 34-7.
“Watching them play, we were really worried about their big-play capability,” Morris said. “We think our [defensive backs] did a good job of keeping things in front of them. Once we were able to prevent the big plays, we felt like our offensive line had a good chance of controlling the line of scrimmage.
“No one has really scored on them all year, and their offense is so explosive. Our defense played unbelievable, and our offensive line took the game over.”
Morris wasn’t just talking out of the side of his mouth. Coming into Friday, no team had scored more than 31 points on the Gators all season, and coach Jason Winstead’s team had been held below 20 points just one time. Goose Creek (9-3) had won six of its last seven games by double digits.
That storyline flipped in a hurry at Carolina Forest, a team that prior to Friday had never played in a big-class third-round game (the Panthers previously did it in 2004 and 1999 as a Class 3A school). The 11-1 mark this season also marks the team’s best record.
So, the team will once again will have to deal with another week of questions about reaching new heights as it prepares for Class 5A favorite Dutch Fork. The Silver Foxes have won all three championships since the South Carolina High School League went to five classifications prior to the 2016 season. They have’t lost a game since 2017 (although they tied North Carolina powerhouse Mallard Creek in August), and none of their other opponents this year have stayed within four touchdowns.
Against Goose Creek, Carolina Forest was dominant, sure. However, it wasn’t perfect, no matter what the final score showed. Garcia did throw an interception early in the second half that allowed Goose Creek to score, and Legette fumbled one away while the Panthers were attempting to run out the clock.
Did it matter? No.
But against Dutch Fork, Morris already knows those are the types of mistakes that the Silver Foxes’ have taken advantage of time and again.
“We’ve got to play better, there’s no doubt,” Morris said. “We can’t have any turnovers. We need to cut down on our mistakes and keep our kids in the game and keep it close in the fourth quarter. That’s a hard task versus Dutch Fork.”
But, thanks to crossing another barrier, it’s Carolina Forest’s task.