There were going to be more challenges than gimmes.
Jamie Snider said as much numerous times during the preseason, when his Loris squad was starting to break down the non-region slate and saw what was coming down the pike. The longtime football man just hoped that everything would slow down sooner rather than later.
Monday night, then, was a sign that maybe that is actually starting to happen.
The Lions used a smothering defense to shut down South Columbus (N.C.) and win 15-6, picking up their first victory of the year in one jam-packed with difficult opponents. In fact, Loris’ strength of schedule appears to be one of the toughest in all of Class 3A.
And although a few more lumps may be on the way, it’s part of Snider’s grand scheme.
“If we play three cupcakes, maybe we’re 3-0 and ranked,” the Lions coach said. “But my responsibility is not to [the fans], it is to the players, to get them ready for region play.
“You go back and look at my first season . We were undefeated and then when we went to Dillon we lost [57-0].”
Since that fateful first year, when his team also bowed out of the playoffs in the opening round, Snider’s scheduling philosophy has been different. Scheduling has become about the long game, not cheap early season wins.
He knows his team is far from a finished product, but it’s also not supposed to be in September. Monday was a fine example.
The Loris offense had two interceptions, a fumble and turned it over on downs another time inside the Stallions’ 5-yard line. Quarterback Gage Conner punched in a 1-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, and Quantavious Soles added a mostly meaningless one as time ticked under a minute in the fourth.
But this wasn’t about the Lions’ defense.
South Columbus managed only Rajon Graham’s 62-yard touchdown run eight seconds into the second quarter. At that point, it was the Stallions’ first first down of the game.
Not many more would follow, as they finished with just five first downs and 118 yards of total offense. That’s pretty stout against a team that dropped 34 points in its opener and 41 against the Lions last year.
Alas, improvement at Loris is starting to show.
“You’ve got to have adversity coming through the season,” Conner said. “We’ve played some good teams, but we’ve got to use them to get better for our region games. South Columbus is a good team; we have Green Sea this Friday, and they’ll be hyped up. But it doesn’t matter. You’ve got to always be ready to play.”
That theme will remain throughout the regular season.
The Lions’ non-region opponents — St. James, North Myrtle Beach, South Columbus, Green Sea Floyds and Carolina Forest — entered this week a combined 8-0. Those victories came over varying degrees of opponents from across the classes. However, only one of them (Loris’ loss to St. James) was determined by single digits. The average score was 35-8.
Once Loris reaches its October region schedule, it isn’t going to get much easier.
Lake City, Dillon, Cheraw, Aynor and Marion, the other five who will be jockeying for a playoff spot and/or positioning out of Region VI-3A, stand at 10-1 after Monday evening, with eight of those wins coming by double digits.
What Snider hopes for, of course, is that all these tough non-region games will make the action a little more fluid when it matters most.
“If we don’t play North Myrtle and St. James, I don’t know that we win [against South Columbus],” Snider said. “I don’t know if we fight as hard. I don’t know if we’ve learned as much. Everybody wants to win. But sometimes, you learn a lot from losing.”