If there is a top common theme for football programs around South Carolina, it’s COVID-19’s impact on the game.
Next on the list, though, is the importance of abnormal early season region contests.
Carolina Forest knows all about that.
Despite being one of the few teams in the area to open the year with a non-region game in Week 1, the Panthers have already played their region rival Conway (winning handily) and now have what is shaping up to be the biggest regular-season game of 2020 on Friday at Sumter. The winner presumably will have a chokehold on the division with four weeks of the regular season to go.
“It’s a big difference, especially the way we’ve looked at things in the past. Non-region games didn’t mean anything,” Carolina Forest coach Marc Morris said. “[Against Conway], that was a playoff game. Getting your kids to understand that is crucial this year. Everyone is in the same boat.”
Just not everyone was as prepared to fish.
In Carolina Forest’s case, Morris was bringing back four offensive linemen with starting experience from a squad that made it all the way to the Class 5A lower state finals. Yes, they lost quarterback Mason Garcia, running back David Legette and a number of other skill positions.
But the scheme stayed similar and receiver-turned-quarterback Kyle Watkins has been pretty special so far.
Likewise, Sumter has a number of players with NCAA Division-I offers and a pedigree that has led to scores of regular-season victories under coach Mark Barnes.
The two factions will clash on Friday, and since none of the other three teams in Region VI-5A are at this level, it likely means the winner will need only one more victory to clinch the division title and the top playoff spot. Putting everything together in order to make the most of it?
That was felt by both teams.
“[The players] sensed it out of us to make sure they get in as much stuff as they can so we all know what we’re doing,” Morris said. “We’ve had to install more offense and defense in a short amount of time. You’re not getting as good at stuff you need to get good at [under normal conditions].”
NMB’S Livingston making most of his carries
When North Myrtle Beach started three sophomores on the offensive line last season, everyone knew there would be some lumps. The Chiefs had a few uncharacteristic games along the way, but head coach Matt Reel knew it would pay off in the long run.
Senior Nyliek Livingston can certainly attest to that.
Through two games, the undersized tailback has already rushed for 292 yards and three touchdowns while averaging 10.1 yards per carry.
“There are certain kids where you’re like, ‘Man, that kid just works so hard,’” Reel said. “I want good things to happen for him. A lot of times in life, it doesn’t always happen like that. But sometimes, like right now, you get to see a kid who has worked his tail off for the last two years. He didn’t even play football two years ago; he was basketball guy. He fell in love with it. I say it all the time — he’s 150 pounds but he plays like he’s 220.”
Even 150 may be generous (he was listed at 130 on the preseason roster). However, Reel was definitely right about the second part.
Livingston has spent the first two weeks of the season getting into the defensive backfield on carries, spinning out of tackles and initiating contact with linebackers and safeties alike to get another yard or five out of each opportunity.
He’s been the beneficiary of that aforementioned line dominating Hartsville and South Florence, sure, but he’s also had 29 carries without putting the ball on the ground. Considering one-third of the offensive plays through two weeks have gone through him, he’s ensuring that the Chiefs’ offense is continuously moving the chains.
And if he keeps performing like he has early, his carry count could spike.
“We can get better week in and week out,” Livingston said. “We have the mentality that we want to get better.”
The reminder of that is the fact that on Friday North Myrtle Beach will head to Wilson, a team that embarrassed the Chiefs a season ago in Little River. If Livingston and the line keep up their hot showings, it will likely mean a 3-0 start for the fifth consecutive season.
AROUND THE AREA
This week will be as loaded as any other during this abbreviated regular season in terms of how many Horry County teams are playing at home. In total, six schools (Aynor, Conway, Green Sea Floyds, Loris, Myrtle Beach and St. James) will be playing in their own stadiums. The only other such occurrence will be Week 7 (Nov. 6). Next week, for instance, there are only three home games in Horry County. … Not surprisingly, the four undefeated teams in Horry County are also the area’s top defenses via points per game allowed. Myrtle Beach is giving up just 3.5 points per game, Carolina Forest and Loris are allowing 7 points per game (although Loris has played just once so far) and North Myrtle Beach is fourth while giving up 14 points per game. … The first two weeks of the season have included plenty of blowouts. Of the 15 games so far involving Horry County schools, nine have been decided by double digits and five have been decided by 28 points or more.