Playoff Previews & Picks: MB, Socastee eye rematch

socfoot-renfrowvsmb13An all-Grand Strand showdown for the Class 3A Lower State football championship? It’s time to think about the unthinkable.

While it’s not uncommon for two schools from our stretch of the coast to clash for state-title trips in tennis, soccer, volleyball or other non-contact sports, the full-contact sport of football is often left to the rough-and-tumble country boys to decide, not a bunch of two-hand-touching beach punks.

At least that’s been the statewide thinking for the past couple of decades. Myrtle Beach has been an off-and-on state power and Socastee’s recent run of success puts that stereotype to bed as both teams play for a trip to the Lower State Final on Friday. If both win, the rivals will meet again for the right to go to the state title game.

The trip to Columbia passes through some rural and rustic communities where football is king. Kids don’t have the option of spending their summers at the beach, swimming, surfing and chasing girls. There’s too much tobacco to cut and football to be played, and they’re not going to lose to a bunch of beach brats.

These small towns pride themselves in their football programs because, well, quiet honestly, there’s not much more to take pride in other than the annual Huckleberry Pie Festival. The boys play football because there’s nothing else to do and it’s their ticket out of town. It’s not hard to rally the town around the team.

But on the Strand, building a strong football program is a challenge. Teenagers have so many options to spend their summers working and playing on the beach that football often takes a backseat to saving up money for a car or a surfboard. It’s a lot more fun huddling up with some hotties on vacation than your sweaty buddies on the gridiron.

Factor in the high number of transplants to the area, where a lower percentage of residents went to school here and a high number of retirees didn’t have children attend local schools. Community pride is a bit harder to rally when the natives are outnumbered by newcomers, and there’s a lot more to do on a Friday night than attend a football game.

So how have the Seahawks and Braves beaten the odds to reach the Lower State semifinals? There are no shortcuts; they old-fashioned way. Myrtle Beach coach Mickey Wilson, Socastee coaches Tim Renfrow and Doug Illing and even North Myrtle Beach coach Perry Woolbright have convinced their kids to put in the hard work that it takes to be winners. They won a combined 30 games this season.

The Myrtle Beach-Socastee series has rarely been for more than bragging rights or region titles. The Seahawks recently scratched a quarter-century itch by winning state championships in 2008 and 2010, while the Braves have put together back-to-back best seasons in school history by winning 24 of their last 25.

So Myrtle Beach travels clear across the state to Edgefield to face Strom Thurmond, which eliminated the Chiefs last week, while Socastee hosts Marlboro County of Bennettsville. Neither local team is intimidated to play these so-called state powers, and the chances of an all-Strand final is just as good as a showdown of schools named after former senators and cigarettes.

So I have no problem picking a rematch of our local rivals in the Lower State Final, which Socastee won by a 38-28 score. Give me Socastee 23, Marlboro County 21 and Myrtle Beach 31, Strom Thurmond 28. I’ll wait till next week to pick the winner of Seahawks-Braves II.

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