HARTSVILLE – Matt Reel knew the scenarios that needed to play out for his team to reach the playoffs.
He was just hoping for the easiest route.
That didn’t happen Friday as the Hartsville defeated the Chiefs 24-8. Had North Myrtle Beach (5-3, 1-3) won, they would have clinched a playoff berth. Still, the Chiefs’ playoff hopes remain alive, thanks to Marlboro County’s defeat of Darlington. That set up a three-way tie at the bottom of the region with one week of games left.
“Not the discussion that we want to be having right now, but when you’re in a valley, man, you’ve got to find some positives,” Reel said. “Our kids competed like hell tonight and I was proud of that.”
Early on, the game was a defensive grinder with both teams trading punts. After a scoreless first quarter, Hartsville finally broke through with 5:11 to go in the half. That’s when quarterback Owen Taylor scored on a five-yard keeper. They extended the lead minutes later when Dariyan Pendergrass returned a punt back to the North Myrtle Beach 4. Taylor notched his second rushing TD on the following play.
North Myrtle Beach caught a break on the ensuing kickoff when a late hit on the return gave them the ball at the Hartsville 40. But the Chiefs came up empty when kicker Zane Smith’s 32-yard field goal attempt hit the left upright.
The margin remained at two scores until Taylor’s third rushing TD with 3:15 in the third quarter.
In the fourth, Hartsville added to its lead with a 30-yard field goal from Leland Saxton.
The Chiefs avoided a shutout when quarterback Cameron Freeman found wideout Trace Hall for a seven-yard touchdown pass. The Chiefs tacked on a two-point conversion for the final score.
Just two weeks ago, North Myrtle Beach was ranked as high as No. 3 in the state’s 4A media poll. Friday was their third straight region loss (Wilson and Darlington were the others).
Next week, the Chiefs will host region champion Myrtle Beach, the top-ranked team in Class 4A.
Reel knows his team has an uphill fight, but he’s pleased with how far his young players have progressed.
“We knew this group, being as young as we were, there were going to be some learning curves,” he said. “I just thought it was going to be early in the year compared to later in the year.”