AIKEN | After an ugly first half that looked nothing like playoff football between two teams who didn’t look like they wanted to be there, the opening moments of the third quarter didn’t start much different.
The first seven plays included an offside on a Myrtle Beach kickoff, awful pass blocking that led to an easy sack, an illegal motion penalty on South Aiken, a punt, a Ryan Burger interception (and a face mask penalty on the return) and an all-too-easy Thoroughbreds touchdown that gave them a double-digit lead.
This was uninspired football at its best. Especially considering the two teams combined for 14 penalties and five turnovers before the break.
That’s when something clicked for the Seahawks.
Over the next 20:35, they showed the flashes of brilliance that led them to spend most of the year as the top-ranked team in Class 4A. They scored 37 unanswered points en route to a 44-17 win that pushed them to the second round of the playoffs.
“We needed to get hot. We believed it was our time to get hot right now,” receiver J.J. Jones said after his 142-yard night. “We wanted to limit the turnovers. Coach [Mickey Wilson] told us ‘There are two halves to a football game.’”
One of Jones’s grabs — a third-quarter reception that led to a Cam Ward touchdown two plays later — could have ended up on SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays under a different media environment. He floated in the air on a deep Ryan Burger pass, got his legs taken out from under him, went horizontal, made the catch and then held on as he hit the ground.
It was a spectacular moment that illustrated just how much Myrtle Beach rolled in the second half.
After that South Aiken touchdown with 8:35 left in the third quarter, the Seahawks’ defense allowed just one more first down while continuously stoning the Thoroughbreds over and again.
There was also starting running back Andrew Doss returning after missing two games with a concussion to rush for 184 yards and two scores on 31 carries. And Jones snagging a 35-yard score or the catch-and-run performance off a Burger scramble that led to a 56-yard touchdown.
Or, you know, the fact that Burger was even in the game.
One week after the junior quarterback injured his left ankle and was ruled questionable (at-best) for the first-round game, he came onto the field three series into the night after inexperienced back-up Jake Doty struggled.
Burger hardly even went through pre-game warm-ups, gingerly going station-to-station on that heavily wrapped and braced ankle.
During the game, though, threw for 276 yards and three touchdowns.
“Our goal was to play without him tonight,” Wilson said. “We felt like we just needed him in there. … What a gutsy performance. He’s got a badly injured ankle and can’t move real well. But he just did a great job of coming in and calming us down a little bit.”
Because of Burger, Doss, Jones and that defense, Myrtle Beach’s quest of making a third straight trip to the Class 4A state championship game remains alive. The Seahawks will head to No. 1 seed Beaufort next week.
The Eagles have one of the best defenses in the state — evidenced by their 45-14 first-round win over West Florence. And it’ll likely take the complete package to pull off the upset.
Or, in other words, something similar to what Myrtle Beach did in the second half against South Aiken.
“You have to run the ball well to go far in the playoffs,” Burger said. “We ran the ball well. We hit some shots throwing the ball and just played really great on defense.”
Said Wilson: “After that [third-quarter] interception, we had every reason at that point to not play well. But we just took off. That’s the thing about playoff football. At some point, you have to get hot.”