COLUMBIA | He wasn’t exactly sure how it would come across.
Staring across Benedict’s Charlie Johnson Stadium as A.C. Flora was presented with the Class 4A state championship trophy, North Myrtle Beach coach Matt Reel was crafting the message of his final 2020 post-game speech to his team in his head.
In the previous two hours or so, everything the Chiefs had built in reaching Saturday’s title game had unraveled. A dominant defense was decimated. A potent offense was picked apart. And a disciplined group of players had showed signs of frustration.
Reel brought his squad together. And while he bookended his talk with the word “love,” he also let his players know football success was only one portion of what North Myrtle Beach’s coaching staff has tried to accomplish.
“It’s just reality,” Reel said after his squad fell 42-7. “We don’t sugarcoat or hide anything from our guys. Good times, bad times, it is what it is. We’re honest with them. And I think that’s the only way they’re going to respect you. You’re honest with them when it’s bad. You’re honest with them when it’s good. I love ‘em. A lot of them, I look at them like they’re my sons. We’re going to keep talking to them about being men of character … so they can succeed in life.”
Specifically, Reel was upset by a number of penalties that helped pave the way for a five-touchdown loss against an A.C. Flora team that didn’t really need much help. The Falcons entered the game as the No. 1 team in the state for a reason and hadn’t really been tested.
In the end, they weren’t Saturday, either.
A.C. Flora quarterback Ethan Beamish threw for 272 yards and three touchdowns, including two to leading receiver Eriq Rice. Tailbacks Matt Pack, Markell Townsend and Terrell Coleman added 174 yards on the ground and each reached the end zone.
It all led to A.C. Flora scoring twice as many points as any Chiefs opponent during the first two-plus months of this pandemic-shortened season.
“They were physical up front,” Chiefs safety Chandler McCall said. “They’re a really well-put-together team. They got the momentum back after that play and took the life out of us.”
Said A.C. Flora coach Dustin Curtis: “We feel like we had some match-up advantages that we could take to. But, naturally, we felt like we were going to be the most physical team they had seen all year. Eventually that was going to wear on them because they have some really good kids going both ways.”
The game didn’t start as a matchup nightmare for North Myrtle Beach.
Devin Montgomery’s 4-yard touchdown run 3:06 into the game was exactly the type of opportunistic football Reel’s team has had most of the year. It stemmed from a fantastic McCall play in which the junior stripped the ball away on the Falcons’ first play from scrimmage.
Everything went from roses to ruin in a hurry for the Chiefs, though.
North Myrtle Beach, which had trailed for all of 6 minutes and 14 seconds all season coming into Saturday, fell behind with a little over two minutes left in the first quarter on Beamish’s second touchdown pass to Rice. Then, late in the second quarter, the Falcons extended their lead with a 2-yard Pack rush that capped a long drive and started the rout.
It only got uglier from there for the Chiefs.
There were four more Flora touchdowns and next to nothing of note from North Myrtle Beach except some awful penalties that only accentuated the Chiefs’ frustration.
It ended a season that North Myrtle Beach — and the rest of the state, for that matter — wasn’t sure would ever take place. Ultimately, the South Carolina High School League abbreviated both the regular season and playoffs. And during the first nine games of it, the Chiefs had put together some serious magic in Little River.
They won the Region VI-4A crown on Nov. 6 with a big win over rival Myrtle Beach and then defeated James Island and North Augusta in the first two rounds of the postseason before taking down the Seahawks again in last week’s lower state title game.
That’s where the good on-field vibes would end.
“We’ve played so well all year,” Reel said. “For this to be the night that we didn’t play well? We just couldn’t do anything we wanted to do. They cut our legs out from under us, so to speak. We couldn’t run the football. We couldn’t pass protect on the downs we had to pass protect. Defensively, we struggled. The whole thing together, we couldn’t find one end to hold off on the other end. We just struggled the whole night.”