The Panthers gave up a double-digit lead to Sumter, eventually losing an overtime game that cost them a region championship. And thanks to an abbreviated playoff schedule that allows in only two teams from each Class 5A region, another loss in the division would have been crippling.
That pressure alone seemed inconsequential Friday night.
Coach Marc Morris’s team made quick work of Socastee on the road, winning 41-6 and all but locking in a second-place finish in Region VI-5A. It was exactly the type of rebound game Carolina Forest needed to stay on track for the postseason.
“Last week sucked,” junior Luke Janack said. “But we had to clear our minds and focus on this game. And we did.”
Janack played like someone who knew exactly what was on the line. The 6-foot, 190-pound tailback and defensive back rushed for three touchdowns and 89 yards on just seven carries. Defensively, he picked off a pair of Socastee passes and returned them both for scores.
What he didn’t handle in terms of scoring, big brother Adam did.
Adam Janack, playing receiver on top of his defensive back spot, pulled in a pair of Kyle Watkins passes, including a 54-yard touchdown reception two minutes into the second quarter.
Along with additional interceptions from Noah Chudyk, Patrick Mauro and Zach Mcluaghlin, the Braves couldn’t even keep it close.
With the loss, Socastee (2-2 overall and in Region VI-5A) will not make the playoffs in coach Ben Hampton’s debut season after falling to 2-2 in region play; they’ll face only non-region opponents from here on out, so the Braves won’t be able to finish better than third in the region. But the Braves — who have already matched their win total from the last two seasons combined — have a viable chance at a winning record for the first time since 2015.
Socastee plays at home against Waccamaw next week before hitting the road for games at Aynor and Marion to wrap up the regular season. It has also qualified for the one-game bowl-style draw courtesy of a one-year exception granted by the South Carolina High School League.
That’s all a pretty decent start for the Hampton era.
“We’ve talked to our guys about where we’re at and the strides we’ve made with our program,” Hampton said. “We’re still young. We’re two months into being able to implement what we want to do here. We know Marc has a great team and they do what they do well. He’s had a chance to establish a program.”
This latest game was further evidence of the divide that Morris has helped created between the two local Class 5A programs. Carolina Forest entered the game with a five-year winning streak against Socastee. Like Friday, none of them were all that close. The Panthers had beaten Socastee by an average score of 49-11 in that span.
The only loss Morris has suffered against Socastee came in his first year in South Carolina back in 2014. After that, this matchup resulted in the most points the Panthers scored in any single game in 2015 (55), 2017 (56) and 2019 (63).
The point-total wasn’t quite to that level this time around, but the meaning behind the win was even more important. In order to finish second in the region, Carolina Forest needs to only beat St. James next week or have Sumter defeat Conway. Both of those scenarios appear likely given what we’ve seen so far this year.
We’ve also now seen that Carolina Forest can handle the task at hand — not lose focus by looking at the big picture.
“A lot of it is playing perfect plays each week — not worrying about the scoreboard,” Morris said. “Obviously our kids felt sick last week after that game. But they knew what was at stake and they came out and played well.”