The players and uniforms are different.
The concentration on fundamentals and schematic approach to the game is not.
North Myrtle Beach’s Class 4A state championship opponent, A.C. Flora, has many of the same qualities that propelled the Chiefs this far: A strong running game behind an experienced offensive line, quarterbacks who are asked to protect the football and not try to do too much and a top-flight defense.
“Their kids have obviously bought into technique and how they want them to play,” North Myrtle Beach fourth-year coach Matt Reel said. “They’re always in the right place. Looking through three game films, I can count one time where they missed [an assignment] up front. They’re really, really disciplined.
“There are a ton of similarities between us and them. This game could be a little bit of a throwback, in the way that everyone has gone spread.”
Indeed, the Chiefs and Falcons use run-based offenses that have continued to produce. North Myrtle Beach senior Nyliek Livingston has rushed for 1,393 yards and 10 touchdowns while averaging 8.1 yards per carry. Back-up Devin Montgomery has another 437 yards and six scores, and quarterback Cam Freeman put up 217 and nine of his own.
A.C. Flora has its own three-headed rushing attack. Matt Pack, Terrell Coleman and Markel Townsend have combined for 2,300 yards and 30 scores.
Pack is the primary option (he’s rushed for seven touchdowns and more than 400 yards in the last two games), followed by Coleman and Townsend, whom Falcons coach Dustin Curtis referred to as his “closer.” Opponents have tried various defensive front sevens, and Flora has eventually decimated all of them while always having a fresh set of legs.
All three of those backs are averaging better than nine yards per carry.
And — like North Myrtle Beach with Freeman — the Falcons have a quarterback in Ethan Beamish who can throw but isn’t required to. Beamish, for instance, attempted just five passes two weeks ago against South Pointe, when the Falcons rushed for 526 yards.
“This kid could be in an air-raid offense and be a 3,000-yard kid,” Curtis said of his quarterback. “When you’re getting the yards-per-carry that we’re getting, it’s hard to say ‘Oh, we should throw it.’”
That mentality, Curtis pointed out, is something he’s seen on film from North Myrtle Beach. Without prompting, both coaches also indicated that the months leading up to the high school football season played into their favor.
While those aforementioned spread teams were unable to develop the timing routes and playbooks during the COVID-19 team and school lockdowns, Flora and North Myrtle Beach launched their preseason work by continuing to focus on the basics — blocking schemes, swarm defenses and great tackling.
“This year has been a lot different than a normal year,” Reel said. “I really believe, and I told our guys this, it was going to come back to the fundamentals and the small parts of the game that often get overlooked.”
That much is evident in how dangerous these two defenses have been. In eight games, the Falcons have allowed an average of 8.9 points, shut out two opponents (including Travelers Rest to open the playoffs) and have given up more than two scores in any game just once, the upper state title victory over Catawba Ridge.
Behind defensive coordinator Greg Hill, the Chiefs allowed opponents this year to score a paltry 12 points per game and held every team to under its season average — frequently by a large margin. And since giving up 21 points to West Florence on Oct. 23, North Myrtle Beach has really turned it on defensively.
In games against Myrtle Beach to close the regular season and then playoff games against James Island, North Augusta and the Seahawks again in the lower state final last week, the Chiefs gave up fewer than 10 points per game and quickly shut down any chance of fourth-quarter drama.
That sounds familiar to Curtis, too.
“We haven’t had a game that we played bad enough or sloppy enough to have a four-quarter game,” he said. “The mistakes that we’ve had have been in the first half. We’ve been able to pull away in the third quarter in any game that was even semi-in doubt at halftime.”
The storylines on both sides of the ball, then, are going to create mirror images that will have to be settled on the field.
“The same things they hang their hat on are the same things we hang our hat on,” Reel said. “And now we have to figure out how to beat ourselves.”