Week 9 Previews & Picks: Local teams return to field

nmbfoot-rainbowThe high school football season was moving right along until Hurricane Matthew made a Hail Mary pass and sent local teams to the sideline for a fortnight. Just as region play was heating up, Friday night lights were put on ice, leaving Grand Strand squads out in the cold. The long layoff has teams basically preparing for a second season and starting over from scratch.

I can identify with the loss of momentum in my weekly picks. I haven’t missed a single game since Week 2, turning a slow start of 8-4 into a 20-game hot streak. The hurricane break makes it even harder to predict how teams will handle the lost time on the practice field. But like the games, the picks must go on. Here’s a look at this week’s long-awaited lineup:

* St. James at Wilson: The Sharks (0-7, 0-1) are still seeking their first win of the season and just might find it Thursday night in Florence. St. James has battled hard in back-to-back defeats to Socastee and Marlboro County, and the break could be just what the Sharks need to right the ship against the Tigers (2-4, 0-1), who have lost four straight. … St. James 24, Wilson 20.

* Marlboro County at North Myrtle Beach: The sting of their loss to rival Myrtle Beach has been left to burn for three weeks while the Chiefs (6-1, 0-1) await the chance to get back on the gridiron. North Myrtle Beach welcomes a formidable foe in the Bulldogs (3-4, 1-0) and need a win to stay in the hunt for a region title. The Chiefs bounce back big-time in this one. … North Myrtle Beach 34, Marlboro County 13.

* Sumter at Conway: This region matchup will go a long way to determining the title and playoff picture, and the Tigers (3-3, 1-0) could turn their shaky start to the season around by knocking off the first-place Gamecocks (6-1, 1-0). The Backyard should be rocking for this one and Tigers quarterback Peyton Derrick is due for a dominating performance. … Conway 38, Sumter 35.

* Carolina Forest at West Florence: The Panthers (5-1, 1-0) can establish themselves as a region title contender with a road win over the Knights (2-4, 0-1). While the Carolina Forest defense has been carrying the bulk of the load this season, look for quarterback Matt Beale & Company to light up the Florence Memorial Stadium scoreboard. … Carolina Forest 42, West Florence 14.

* South Florence at Socastee: The Braves (2-4, 0-1) have been dealing with a lot on and off the field with nearby floodwaters disrupting a return to focusing fully on football. The Bruins (3-3, 0-1) had their three-game winning streak snapped in a shootout with Sumter and should be hungry to get back on the winning track. … South Florence 27, Socastee 24.

* Myrtle Beach vs. Bye: Ah, the easiest pick of the week. Due to a fluke in the schedule, the No. 2 Seahawks (7-0, 2-0) are off again this week and will have a break of nearly one month before returning next week against Wilson. The time off came at a good time for Myrtle Beach, which capped a brutal all-Class 5A non-conference schedule with a hard-fought win over North Myrtle Beach in the region opener. A healthy and rested flock of Seahawks in the second half of the season could be a scary thing for region foes.

* Christian Academy of Myrtle Beach 53, John Paul II 28: Actually, this is the easiest pick of the week since the makeup game was played Monday night. The Saints scored their second win of the season despite a long bus ride on a school night and playing with a 20-man roster. I have avoided picking games for the upstart private-school program because, honestly, the inexperienced Saints have been on the losing end of some lopsided scores while starting a program from scratch. Why pile on just to get an easy win, but I may have to reconsider as the Saints show progress. If they can keep building the foundation as the school continues to grow, CAMB has the potential to be a SCISA power.

Photo courtesy of Tawanna James Boyers/NMB Athletics

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