Bryce Lybrand took some flack when he added a non-region game against Carolina Forest late in the regular season.
After all, the Beaufort football team adding eight hours of bus travel to play a high-quality Class 5A opponent with nothing to gain in terms of playoff standings didn’t make much sense to a few folks.
But for Lybrand, the second-year Eagles coach, he needed to know what he was working with. The Eagles’ schedule was decimated by COVID-19 quarantines. So, while the Eagles were undefeated, Lybrand wasn’t sure how ready they’d be for the Class 4A playoffs.
Sure enough, Beaufort got thumped, losing 40-20 — thanks to 243 rushing yards from Panthers running back Luke Janack and another 163 rushing yards from quarterback Kyle Watkins.
Not the result Lybrand was hoping for, right?
“That game was probably the best thing that happened to us,” the Eagles coach said this week in advance of a second-round playoff game at home against Myrtle Beach. "That game woke us up. We weren’t flying high anymore. We knew what mistakes we made and knew that if we had eliminated those we could have been in that game.”
The last-minute measuring stick was crucial, and it’s safe to say getting knocked down a peg or two got his players’ attention. The Eagles turned around two weeks later and routed West Florence last week to open the playoffs, the team’s first playoff victory in five seasons — a vast contrast to this week’s opponent.
Myrtle Beach’s success has more often than not extended into the postseason. The Seahawks have made it out of the first round in every season of Mickey Wilson’s tenure save for 2016, and including that year, Myrtle Beach has participated in 15 postseason games — the equivalent of an extra season-and-a-half of a typical regular season.
“I don’t think you can put a price tag on it,” Wilson said. “Even if a kid doesn’t get on the field — we brought up 10-11 guys from the junior varsity team — they are with us for an extra five weeks. It’s like when these college teams have bowl games. You get that time with it and see what you have the next year.”
That’s knowledge that Lybrand (and most coaches, for that matter) don’t get.
Beaufort’s two trips to the second round since 2016 include the win that season and last year’s, when the Eagles received a first-round bye and then fell to Hartsville the following week. Lybrand has been a part of the staff for three seasons, including one as the offensive coordinator, but he’s been around the game long enough to know the type of experience deficit his team is facing this week.
And it’s not just about the postseason.
“The level of talent you play every week matters,” Lybrand said, pointing to Myrtle Beach’s spot in Region VI-4A. “That gauntlet they run up there is good. They’re used to seeing those really good football teams. That’s why we structured our schedule the way we did. COVID kind of changed what we could do. But we had Benedictine (Ga.) on the schedule. We had Oceanside on the schedule. We had West Ashley on the schedule.
“It’s all building. Everything is a new experience. Us playing Hartsville last year in the playoffs was a good experience, too. I left that game upset that we lost but encouraged because we stood there for three quarters and gave out some punches. It’s taking steps and trying to gain experience.”
Experience that Myrtle Beach already has.