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Myrtle Beach's Xayvion Knox takes down Airport's Markel Johnson as the Seahawks advance to the fourth round of the playoffs. Photo by Janet Morgan/janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com

After a rocky start, top-ranked Myrtle Beach exploded for a 28-point second quarter, pulling away from Airport High for a 35-10 win in the third round of the Class 4A playoffs.

The Seahawks now move on to face region rival Hartsville next Friday night for the lower state title. The winner of that game will play for a state championship.

Playing again without injured star quarterback Luke Doty, the Seahawks relied on backup QB Ryan Burger to lead the offense. In their first series, Burger threw an errant pass that was picked off and returned for a touchdown by Airport just a few minutes into the game, giving the Eagles an early 7-0 lead.

Later in the first quarter, the Eagles drove down the field to within the Seahawks’ 5 yard line. But the Myrtle Beach defense stood tall and forced Airport to go for a field goal. From that point, the Seahawk defense took control and held the Eagles to just those 10 points.

Burger seemed to settle down after his team’s first drive and the Seahawks went on a scoring spree, putting up 28 points before halftime.

Led by linebacker Kenny Byrd, the Seahawks' defense stymied Airport's usually strong running game, forcing the Eagles to take to the air. But most of the time, Eagle quarterback Markco Gilmore had little or no time to find his receivers.

In the third quarter, Burger led the Seahawks on a time-consuming 94-yard drive capped by a Xayvion Knox touchdown scamper, pushing the score to 35-10.

Myrtle Beach coach Mickey Wilson was glad to get the playoff win, but he said his team has some work to do to get ready for Hartsville.

Wilson said he was particularly pleased how his team made the early goal line stand, forcing the Eagles to go for three instead of finding the end zone.

“Our defense was off the charts tonight,” Wilson said. The first quarter field goal was the only scoring the defense yielded all night.

He said after the first interception, Burger got his game under control and did a great job leading the offense. He noted that even though he wasn’t suited up for the game, Doty helped Burger throughout the night on the sidelines.

The win sets up a rematch of last year's lower state championship. In the 2018 edition, the Seahawks knocked off the Red Foxes. They also defeated Hartsville earlier in the season 42-21. Hartsville made it to next week’s lower state title game by defeating Brookland-Cayce 22-21, scoring a two-point conversion to take the lead with two minutes to go.

Wilson said he expects a good game Friday night, noting that Hartsville is always tough this time of year.

The lower state title game will be played at Doug Shaw Memorial Stadium in Myrtle Beach at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

The winner will face the winner of the upper state title game between Wren and Ridge View. The state championship is Dec. 7.

Contact Charles D. Perry at 843-488-7236

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