Matt Reel said it a few weeks back. So it really wasn’t surprising when he repeated himself a few days ago.
North Myrtle Beach’s coach, preparing for a second game in three weeks against Myrtle Beach — this time for the lower state championship at home on Friday — was focused on the Seahawks’ big-play potential and starting field position.
But, more importantly, what can flip a field unlike anything else in the game.
“In these games, you have to protect the football to get points on the board or prevent points on the board [for the opponent],” Reel said. “I’m a big believer in those momentum plays. If we can prevent that from happening and make them manufacture everything they do, in high school football, that’s really hard to do.”
It’s disproportionately more difficult against the Chiefs. Their defense has been a boa constrictor for opposing offenses all season, as it has allowed a meager 12.2 points and an even more impressive 206 yards per game en route to an 8-0 start this fall.
Teams have struggled against a loaded North Myrtle Beach defense that doesn’t miss many tackles and has schemed well against everyone. Only one opponent (Darlington), wasn’t held considerably below its season scoring average.
Amid all that, and a huge contributing factor, is that the Chiefs have forced 13 turnovers. Needless to say, there’s a reason Myrtle Beach coach Mickey Wilson is concerned over what has been a noticeable problem in that area the last five games. Beginning with a loss to Wilson on Oct. 23, the Seahawks have given the ball away 16 times on offense, an average of more than three times per game. They had just four in the first four weeks of the season, and two of them were by distant back-ups playing in garbage time.
They carry that knowledge into this week’s game with a ticket to Columbia on the line.
“Any time you play in a championship game, those turnovers become a little more hyper-sensitive,” Wilson said. “The momentum of those games, when you have turnovers it turns out to be momentum for the opponent.”
There’s that word again — momentum.
But if any program is built to counteract it, most would say it is Myrtle Beach.
While the overall turnover figure looks awfully daunting, the Seahawks are really good at covering them up. Throughout the recent five-game stretch, Myrtle Beach has scored 23 offensive touchdowns. Thirteen of those came in the playoff wins over South Aiken and Beaufort. And four of them came from at least 30 yards out.
Myrtle Beach has playmakers who can even out the mistakes. The trick is keeping them all on the field and effective. That’s been easier said than done.
Starting quarterback Ryan Burger didn’t play the second half against North Myrtle Beach on Nov. 6 or the first two series in the playoff opener at South Aiken after rolling his ankle against the Chiefs. Star receiver Adam Randall suffered an ankle injury of his own early against North Myrtle Beach and was limited in practice and basically non-existent in the win at South Aiken.
Senior tailback Andrew Doss missed the final two games of the regular season with a concussion after missing the Week 2 Georgetown game with a separate injury. And Rhino package running back Cam Ward was lost for the year after injuring his arm Nov. 13.
“Part of it is the lack of continuity on offense because of injuries, whether it is Ryan Burger or Adam Randall or Andrew Doss,” Wilson said. “We have guys who haven’t been able to be together for the entire season. You lose that chemistry that you need.”
North Myrtle Beach hasn’t been bit by the bug quite as bad as the Seahawks have, but it is still every bit as troubling for Reel. In the first two rounds of the playoffs, he’s seen his team give it away twice each game.
Those three fumbles and a pick account for half of the team’s turnovers all season. Had it not been for eventual lopsided scores against James Island and North Augusta, they may have mattered more.
Add another fumble in the blowout win over Myrtle Beach three weeks ago, and Reel has his own version of a turnover problem.
“It’s a huge piece in the game Friday night. It was a huge piece the last time we played,” Reel said. “They had some and we had some. … Turnovers have been a huge advantage for us, but we’ve had a few that have hurt us.”
And for a few more hours, both coaches will be thinking about them.
Myrtle Beach (7-2) at North Myrtle Beach (8-0)
Time | 7:05 p.m.
Last meeting | North Myrtle Beach 34, Myrtle Beach 6 (Nov. 6)
About the game | Anyone who tells you that Andrew Doss’s production level isn’t the key to this game after the last two weeks hasn’t been paying attention to what the Seahawks have done since getting thumped in Little River to end the regular season. After missing that game (concussion), Doss rushed for 182 yards and two scores to open the playoffs at South Aiken and 199 yards and four touchdowns in the second-round win at Beaufort. In addition to his traditional handoffs, he’s taken over the Rhino package duties, which is a big reason he’s had 71 carries the last two weeks. The Seahawks love to get all eyes on him so they can get star-studded receivers J.J. Jones and Adam Randall to hit those home runs. Neither South Aiken nor Beaufort could prevent that from happening. North Myrtle Beach has one of the better defensive lines in the state, however, so it isn’t as if they’re going into this empty handed. That battle between the Chiefs’ first line of defense and Doss could dictate how this game looks after halftime and into the late-game series.