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Myrtle Beach's Xayvion Knox rushes for the end zone in the win over Hartsville on Friday. Myrtle Beach won 28-21 and are the lower state champions. Photo by Janet Morgan/janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com

The contradiction is stark.

The normally high-flying Myrtle Beach offense has taken on so many different looks over the years. Four receivers bunched up so close any of them could reach out and touch one of the others. More five-wide options than anyone could count, with various speedsters going in motion to make it happen. Even offensive linemen set up near a sideline.

The pass-happy system run by Mickey Wilson and Wes Streater is about to send its fifth quarterback in the last decade on to the college ranks. And yet, what has propelled the Seahawks back to the state championship couldn’t be more different.

A once-gimmicky package plundered from a successful college team’s wildcat formation was adapted and got a new name. It’s had more than a decade of trial and error at Myrtle Beach. And after four crucial showings in the last month, South Carolina high school football’s talking heads know it.

Rhino.

“It kind of goes against the grain for what we’ve been known for doing,” said Streater, who has been the team’s offensive coordinator since 2009 and was previously the team’s receivers coach. “Defenses prepare for spread and funky formations and then we jump into this heavy, jumbo set and go right at them. It’s funny to think about it.”

Simply, Rhino is meant to be just that — simple.

In its current form, Myrtle Beach puts seven players on the line. Typically behind them are Keltron Bessant, Kevin Munoz and Tyrone Miles — a linebacker and two defensive linemen, by trade — set in a triangle formation on either side of the center. Behind them is Xayvion Knox.

He takes the direct snap, waits for his teammates to find someone to block, searches for a hole and bolts. Knox isn’t the first Seahawk to run it. Not by a long shot.

The earliest renditions of it at Myrtle Beach began in 2006, weeks after Wilson saw the University of Florida and coach Urban Meyer run their own variation with then-freshman Tim Tebow. Eddie Jones was the Seahawks’ test case for the package the staff named after “a big ol’ animal that trucks people,” as Wilson put it.

Over the years, Daiquone Ford got a few cracks, as did Keyonte Sessions and Kyle Belack. Brandon Sinclair (2012-2015) was probably about the best at executing it.

That is, until Knox came along.

“Xayvion has shown us that he’s really good running it,” Wilson said. “He’s patient waiting on his blocks and strong enough to pop it up there and get three yards.”

Usually, it’s much more.

After gaining 194 yards and seven touchdowns with it on 16 carries during the regular season, Knox has added another 410 yards and 11 touchdowns out of Rhino in four playoff games. All told, he’s averaging 10.2 yards per carry from his spot behind all those blockers in 2019, and a touchdown every 3.2 carries out of the package.

More than 70% of his overall rushing yards on the season (860) have come via Rhino.

“We get to experiment in ways to score in a bunch of different ways,” Knox said. “The guys up front get to hit somebody and I get to run it and see what I can do. … We have had plenty of opportunities. It’s nice to show people how well we can run the ball. It’s our role to step up and help the team as much as we can.”

Finding the turning point of when Rhino went from cool side feature to a necessary schematic is easy. In the first half of the playoff opener against Lakewood, star quarterback Luke Doty went down with a hand injury. Myrtle Beach was trailing and had to turn to Ryan Burger, a sophomore quarterback with limited experience. Wilson and Streater had no choice but to take some of the pressure off him. 

Rhino was the answer, as Knox ended up going off for 230 yards and six touchdowns in the second half. The Seahawks won 63-31.

In the weeks that followed, Burger has gotten much more comfortable, throwing for 670 yards and seven touchdowns in the playoffs. However, Myrtle Beach went from practicing the formation for a few snaps one day a week to going over it three days a week for at least a period. Wilson and Streater used it against North Myrtle Beach in the second round, again against Airport in the third and then seven more times against Hartsville last Friday in the lower state championship.

It’s not as if it’s Rhino or bust; plays out of the package have accounted for fewer than 20% of the team’s offensive snaps in the playoffs. However, in that same span, Rhino is responsible for nearly 30% of the team’s yardage and exactly half of the team’s 22 postseason touchdowns.

The Seahawks are clearly using it much more effectively, rotating quickly into Rhino from base formations — it can catch a defense on its heels — and using next to no time between when the ball is set and ultimately snapped.

“We’ve figured to just line up and go, not mess with it too much,” Wilson said. “Sometimes, I think you can mess around with stuff too much. Sometimes, vanilla is good.

“It’s simple. it’s old-school. But in saying that, the fact that it is and we trend the other way, that’s what makes it unique.”

Knowing Wilson, it wasn’t much of a surprise that he found a way to work in a pop pass out of Rhino against North Myrtle Beach in the second round — much like Jones did in the early days and Tebow certainly did at Florida. However, Knox’s attempt fell woefully incomplete, and Wilson decided that was enough of that. The other 59 times the team has lined up in its have all been runs.

Streater, himself a former Myrtle Beach High receiver, isn’t exactly twitching with all these carries, either, mainly because this set has produced results. The evidence of its effectiveness is in all those yards and touchdowns, but also at least partially in the fact that Myrtle Beach is heading to back to Columbia this weekend.

It leads to the inevitable question. Where is Myrtle Beach without it?

“We could still be right here getting ready to play for state, but it would have been a little rockier road, not having that to supplement our offense,” Streater said. “I think it would have been tough, but I don’t ever want to say we couldn’t.”

He doesn’t have to — thanks to Rhino.

CLASS 4A STATE CHAMPIONSHIP

Wren (12-2) vs. Myrtle Beach (13-0)

Time | 6:30 p.m. Saturday

Place | Williams-Brice Stadium, University of South Carolina

Tickets | $12

Coverage | MyHorryNews.com will have live and continuing coverage.

WYNA-FM, 104.9 FM

About the game | It would be too simple to say that this game will be a straight offense vs. defense showdown. It would also be naive to ignore that faction of the last game of the year. Wren enters Saturday as the top-scoring team in Class 4A. The Hurricanes have average 53.3 points per game this season and dropped 44 points or more in 11 of their 14 games. Meanwhile, Myrtle Beach’s 15.7 points allowed is second in the classification and has been a demonstrative strength of the Seahawks 2019 campaign. What coach Mickey Wilson’s team will have to do above all else is slow down Wren quarterback Joe Owens. All the transfer has done this year is throw for 4,100 yards and 58 touchdowns while rushing for another 345 yards and 11 more scores. He’s got two top-end targets in Eli Wilson (1,611 yards, 19 touchdowns) and Tyler Cherry (1,328, 24). Obviously, Myrtle Beach’s offense could create some cushion against all that with its own abilities. The Seahawks’ 44.5 points per game is second to only Wren, and although things have changed some since Luke Doty’s injury, the coaching staff at Myrtle Beach has never shied away from a shootout.

Contact Charles D. Perry at 843-488-7236

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