Matt Reel wanted his squad loose.
Inadvertent as it may have been, this was leading by example.
The North Myrtle Beach coach’s pre-game attire — one consisting of basketball shorts, a T-shirt and some gifted flip flops — was his preferred look for the walk-through. Then, he kept with it after the gates opened to the public and right on up until about an hour before kickoff. His laid-back demeanor, as abnormal as it seemed, did the trick.
The Chiefs players went out and delivered a huge win in arguably the biggest game of the 25-year history of the rivalry with Myrtle Beach. North Myrtle Beach remained perfect with a 34-6 win that came with all sorts of future benefits, as well as memories of the not-so-distant past.
“In my first year, I was a nervous wreck,” Reel said of his team’s 2017 region championship during his inaugural season as a head coach. “I was trying to learn the ropes of what to do, how to do it, when to do it, when not to do it. But this group, I’m comfortable with them. They can do some things getting ready for games that are like ‘That’s not how I’d do it.’ But they’re 16- and 17-year-old kids and they need to be able to enjoy themselves.”
They certainly were after Friday’s win earned them the Region VI-4A title, a No. 1 seed in the playoffs and at least two guaranteed home games should they continue to stick around. That was the spoils of a second-half outburst against the Seahawks.
After leading 7-3 at halftime, Chandler McCall picked off a Jake Doty pass and returned its 73 yards for a score. Three series later, after Sullivan Hardin’s second field goal of the game resulted in Myrtle Beach’s final points, the Chiefs started really cranking on all cylinders.
Elijah Vereen blocked a punt deep in Seahawk territory and then took a direct snap on the ensuing possession into the end zone. Two Myrtle Beach series later, Jamareon Bessant added another interception, and Tavarius Hooks made it count with a rushing score of his own.
Less than a minute later, TJ Cox added a third interception — and a second pick-six — that made the final score a little more bloated.
“It’s bringing the community together and letting everyone realize that we can compete with them and that they’re not dominant,” McCall said before turning his focus to the playoffs. “It gives us better position. We’re not traveling three hours the first two rounds.”
That’s where Myrtle Beach finds itself, thanks in part to a loss that may have happened anyway but didn’t look any better after some crucial personnel losses. The Seahawks entered the game without their top two running backs in Andrew Doss and Ben Herriott. Then, moments into the game, star receiver Adam Randall was shaken up while playing defense. (He returned but wasn’t his normal self.)
And just before half, starting quarterback Ryan Burger injured his ankle and was unable to play the second half. It certainly contributed to the final score, leaving Mickey Wilson’s team (5-2 overall, 4-2 region) heading to South Aiken next week to open the playoffs.
“We've really got a very good football team,” Wilson said. “I think we’ve got a chance to compete for a state championship. We’ve got to get healthy and get better in a hurry.
“I like [not being a top seed]; I’m not going to lie to you. I like being the underdog. … We’re going to be in the underdog role now and we’re going to embrace it.”
The Seahawks have won each of their last two state championships (2018 and 2013) after not winning a region crown. So, that scenario is certainly likely again. The Seahawks, should everyone be in the lineup next week, will likely be considered the favorite at South Aiken.
The Chiefs definitely will against James Island, the last team into the Class 4A playoffs via an at-large berth. They’ll bring with them an offense led by Nyliek Livingston, who Friday notched his sixth 100-yard game in six chances this year.
Defensively, North Myrtle Beach has allowed a measly 12.6 points per game and forced 23 turnovers while playing in the toughest region in the state. Maybe most impressively about the Chiefs’ 6-0 start?
They've trailed for just 6 minutes and 14 seconds so far all season.
“I knew for some reason, this year, this team, we were going to make big plays, win big games,” Livingston said. “I never had any doubt in this game, and this is what I expected. To everybody else, it may seem like a surprise, but to us, we knew we were capable of it.”