In his post-game speech Friday, Matt Reel told his players their 28-7 win over Marlboro County could have been more convincing.
“You ain’t even got close to playing at your potential yet,” he said. “That’s the scary part.”
What’s also frightening — at least for the Chiefs’ future opponents — is that they are the No. 3-ranked team in the state for Class 4A.
Using a mixture of solid defense and a timely ground game, North Myrtle Beach (5-0, 1-0 region) seemed to be in control for much of Friday’s contest.
After forcing a punt on the Bulldogs’ opening drive, North Myrtle Beach made the most of its first possession, marching down the field and taking the lead on a two-yard Messiah Gore touchdown run.
The Bulldogs then tightened up their defense and found some success in the air, tying the game with just over 11 minutes to go in the second quarter. That’s when Marlboro County’s Jamiek McCoy snagged a 27-yard pass from quarterback Darrius Grant.
Marlboro County was driving again when North Myrtle Beach forced a turnover with under six minutes to go in the second quarter.
The offense seemed like it would stall again, but a creative reverse allowed Nick Moss to break free for a 41-yard touchdown scamper with 2:45 left in the second quarter.
The Chiefs withstood a late drive by the Bulldogs and the halftime score was 14-7. That margin frustrated Reel, who said his team should have built a bigger lead. However, he credited the Bulldogs and specifically their quarterback Grant for keeping the game close early.
“They did some things that we hadn’t seen on film,” he said. “They put some guys in different places personnel-wise and gave us some different looks.”
Strategically, the Chiefs felt their pass rush could overwhelm the Bulldogs’ offensive line. Their plan was to force Grant to make throws and stifle the running game.
That pressure began to bear fruit in the second half as the Chiefs continued attacking the quarterback. Their offense also came to life.
A 34-yard kickoff return by Moss set up a drive that ended in a 13-yard touchdown pass from Cameron Freeman to Zyer Belle with just over 10 minutes to go in the third quarter.
The exclamation point came after a botched Marlboro County punt set up the North Myrtle Beach offense at the Bulldogs 7. Zyon Belle’s four-yard TD punch pushed the lead to three scores.
Zyon Belle finished the game with 81 rushing yards.
“We’ve been playing good,” the senior running back said. “But now we’ve got to play great because the teams get harder. The teams that are in the region, they don’t quit. They keep going.”
He pointed out that he’s had veteran teams the last two seasons. This squad isn’t as experienced, but that’s led to a steady progression of adding skills and cutting bad habits. Because of that youth, he knows this team hasn’t plateaued.
“The last two years, we almost blossomed a little too early, as crazy as that sounds,” he said. “You want to play your best football going into the playoffs.”
One concern from Friday's game was the ejection of defensive lineman Trey Baker, who was penalized for targeting. Reel said his staff will review the game film to see if they want to appeal the officials' call, which could result in a two-game suspension.
The Chiefs will host Wilson next week in another tough region contest. And their region scheduled also includes the No. 1-ranked team in Class 4A — Myrtle Beach.
“The people we’re getting ready to play are really, really good football teams,” Reel said. “If we don’t do the little things right, we’re going to have a let down eventually. That’s the things we’ve got to tighten up.”