Myrtle Beach’s coaching staff had already scanned through three full Wren games by the end of Saturday, and had six more to go over before bringing in players for film study.
Preparation for a state title game is just a bit more intense, after all.
But what did Mickey Wilson and his assistants see on tape? In advance of the Class 4A state championship (6:30 p.m. Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia), we borrowed some time from a reporter who knows the Hurricanes well.
Kennington Smith arrived at the Anderson Independent-Mail in February after serving in various capacities at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Associated Press, Sports Illustrated and Rivals. In the months since, he’s become an expert on Wren, a team that has made a dramatic rise to its first state title game appearance. You can view Smith’s work at www.independentmail.com or follow him via Twitter @SkinnyKenny_.
MYHORRYNEWS: It’s hard not to talk about Wren football in 2019 without mentioning Joe Owens, the senior quarterback who transferred in from Mauldin prior to this year. How much of the Hurricanes’ success is based upon the pairing of his abilities and this system?
KENNINGTON SMITH: When I first saw Joe during spring practice, I assumed he'd been playing for Wren since his freshman year; it wasn't until much later that I learned he had just transferred in a few months prior. That just shows how quickly and how well he took control of the offense. The Wren offense goes as he goes, dual-threat guy who's extremely patient and doesn't get frustrated or rattled. I knew he'd be productive but I don't think anyone could've predicted him being on record-setting pace. He currently has 69 touchdowns (58 passing, 11 rushing), only two away from tying the state record for a season. He's also very fortunate to have multiple weapons at his disposal; the Hurricanes have four players with at least eight receiving touchdowns this year.
MHN: Wren has rushed for 30 scores on the ground this year. Is that part of the offense an afterthought to all the passing totals and done in late-game situations or is it a direct part of the scheme week-to-week?
KS: When talking about Wren's offense, you can get so caught up in the passing attack that you forget they have a near 1,000 yard rusher in senior Logan Simmons. It's no secret that the bread-and-butter of the offense is through the air but they've shown the ability to control the game running the ball. Their game against Belton-Honea Path is a great example. They came out running the ball from the beginning and continued to dominate on the ground throughout the game. How many rushes per week varies but as the season has gone on, it's been a more featured area of the offense.
MHN: Some those Wren point totals this year were downright comical, as the Hurricanes pushed the scoreboard lights into the 50s or more 11 times this season. What did it say about this team when it won a second-round playoff game against Greenville 17-7 a couple weeks ago?
KS: Wren coach Jeff Tate will tell you that as long as he has one more than the other team, he's good. To that point in the season, Wren hadn't played an "ugly" game. Joe was uncharacteristically off and for the first time all season, the offense couldn't put points on the board. What I think it says is that Wren can win in other ways than putting up video game offensive numbers. In that game, the defense scored on a pick-six and a blocked punt set them up for another score. More times than not the offense has blown teams away, but even on an off day they have enough talent to produce big plays in the other two phases.
MHN: Reed Morrissey and Dez Frazier. Pretty stout linebackers. What’s the impact here?
KS: For as prolific as their offense has been, Wren's defense has been stout in their own right and Dez and Reed are huge parts of that. Dez is without a doubt the heart and soul of the Hurricanes defense: 154 tackeles, 23 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks and two interceptions. Dez is known for his huge hits and plays with a relentlessness that I haven't seen from many other players and the other players on defense feed off of that energy. Reed is another transfer player, from JL Mann and is a 100+ tackler himself. One area where he is very effective is in pass coverage. He had the aforementioned pick-six, one of four he has this year. He's also a skilled blitzer. Defensive coordinator Quinnon Isom does a good job of featuring him in different ways.
MHN: Wren is facing a defending state champion who was ranking No. 1 in the state from the preseason right on into the playoffs. Are the Hurricanes citing an underdog role to hype themselves up for this one?
KS: I wouldn't say so. From the beginning, Wren's been one of the most confident teams that I've been around. Obviously, Myrtle Beach is who they are but I see Wren as a team feeling like they have every right to be there, as well, so I would expect to see a team that's going down to Columbia playing with house money.