COLUMBIA | Even before the final horn sounded on North Myrtle Beach’s Class 4A state championship loss to A.C. Flora, reality was starting to set in for the Chiefs.
A special class of seniors got themselves to Columbia for the first time in school history, but they would have to accept their final chance at a state title would fall one game short.
Now, they’re all done in pads.
“I hate it for our guys. I hate it for our seniors. This is the last thing that they’re going to remember after a nine-win season,” head coach Matt Reel said following the 42-7 loss to the Falcons. “We’ve just got to get back to work. We’ll try to get past this in the next couple weeks.”
Reel’s next team will be arguably his biggest re-build. Of the 22 offensive and defensive starters from Saturday night, 15 will graduate at the end of the school year, including eight of the members of the defensive unit that propelled the Chiefs all the way to Benedict’s Charlie Johnson Stadium.
Offensively, departing will be leading rusher Nyliek Livingston and key reserve tailback Devin Montgomery, multiple players along the line and the team’s two most-effective receivers.
And, of course, three-year starting punter and kicker Zane Smith.
The Chiefs have had to replace talent before, but never this much all at once.
If anything gives the Chiefs hope at some of its position losses, it is Livingston. After playing sparingly on defense a year ago, he slid into the running back role this fall and rushed for 1,456 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Saturday’s game was the lone time all season he failed to reach the 100-yard mark, but it couldn’t erase everything he or the rest of the seniors accomplished to get to this point.
“I’m very blessed to be a part of this,” defensive end Chase Simmons said. “We worked hard. I’ve been with these guys since I was a little kid. I wouldn’t have wanted to go out with anybody else.”
After a few weeks, the rebuild will start taking shape with those still in uniform.
“We’ve got to get back in the weight room. And from there, it’s just culture,” Reel said. “We’re not the biggest. We’re not the fastest. That will just never happen. We’ve got good players we can put in space. But it’s about the mentality up front that we’re tough. That’s just who we are.”
HORRY COUNTY’S RUN
For the third consecutive year, Horry County had at least one team reach the state finals.
And for the second consecutive season, at least one of those championship contenders fell short.
The Chiefs’ loss mimicked that of Myrtle Beach’s Class 4A title defeat to Wren a season ago. The Seahawks and Green Sea Floyds each both qualified for the last game in their respective classifications in 2018 and 2019, with the Trojans winning the Class 1A championship both years and Myrtle Beach winning in 2018.
WEEKEND OF BLOWOUTS
It didn’t matter that all the teams that qualified for the state championship games in every class were region champs, No. 1 playoff seeds and mostly defended their own turf to get to Columbia.
The clear-cut results from Friday and Saturday spoke for themselves.
A.C. Flora, Dutch Fork (5A), Daniel (3A) and Southside Christian turned the Weekend of Champions into lopsided affairs. Dutch Fork won its fifth consecutive championship with a 28-6 win against T.L. Hanna Friday evening. Then, on Saturday, Daniel ran away from Camden with a 52-31 victory and Southside Christian throttled Lake View 46-6 before A.C. Flora did its thing against North Myrtle Beach.
“I guess it means we have four pretty good football teams,” Falcons coach Dustin Curtis said. “We felt like we were all year. Obviously everybody had the right to be here. But sometimes, football is fortunate. … Little things just add up, and for the teams this weekend, they did.”
Abbeville-Marion was postponed for at least two weeks due to COVID-19 concerns with the Swamp Foxes.