Chiefs-Seahawks rematch offers history, high stakes

Myrtle Beach has won six South Carolina football championships and played for the state title on three other occasions,

In coach Mickey Wilson’s 10 seasons alone, the Seahawks have reached the third round of the playoffs seven times. So doing it again is hardly a drop in the program’s decorated water bucket.

Two local squads doing so — and facing each other, to boot?

That’s a completely different story.

When North Myrtle Beach heads to Doug Shaw Memorial Stadium on Friday in the lower state semifinals, all the expected capacity crowd will witness is the most impactful high school football game ever played between two Horry County teams.

“The only other real big regular game that was an in-county game was Myrtle Beach against Conway. The winner took home the Victory Bell. But that’s nothing more than bragging rights,” said Wayne Gray, the former Seahawk standout, current radio color commentator and de facto team historian. “In terms of what is at stake, which is advancing into the lower state championships, furthering your playoffs, this has got to be the biggest game in Horry County history.”

That’s not simply because the Myrtle Beach-North Myrtle Beach rivalry has developed nicely over the last five years. Or that Friday’s winner moves on to face either North Augusta or Hartsville in the lower state championship game.

Adding to the mix and heightening the build-up is that no match-up like this has ever happened here before. Much of that is because of lack of opportunity.

Take the postseason history of the nine individual teams from this area into consideration. St. James has never reached the third round. Carolina Forest has done it once. This year’s Green Sea-Floyds team is doing it for the second time. And Socastee did it twice, in 2012 and 2013.

The latter of those two Braves’ runs would have set up a would-be lower state finals appearance against Myrtle Beach, but Socastee fell short (and the Seahawks went on to win the state title that year). That missed Socastee-Myrtle Beach postseason match-up was about as close as we’ve ever gotten to this type of scenario.

Be it Myrtle Beach’s deep playoff runs or others made by the likes of Conway or Loris over the years, though, and two county programs never had their postseason paths cross this late in the game. Class differential obviously played a role in that, too.

Conway and Myrtle Beach haven’t been in the same classification since the late-1960s. Loris has been at least one class below the Tigers and Seahawks since 1975. And when the Dave Maness-coached Aynor squads were doing their thing between 1979 and 1991, Green Sea-Floyds was either a class above or below the Blue Jackets and/or struggling to even put together a winning record.

Looking only at North Myrtle Beach and Myrtle Beach, even, it is clear how rare this is. The Chiefs and Seahawks have been members of the same classification only since 1998. Only recently has North Myrtle Beach become a true player on the local football scene on a regular basis.

Although Myrtle Beach holds an 18-7 advantage in the series, the Chiefs have won two of the last five, while three of the last five have been decided by five points or less. That includes the 17-14 Myrtle Beach victory in October.

North Myrtle Beach lost that game, but also found a new trajectory after the fact.

“If you play a really good team, and you’re competitive, and you have a chance to win, even if you don’t get it done, there’s a point where your kids say ‘We are good enough,’” Chiefs coach Matt Reel said. “Whether we said it [before] and didn’t believe it, now we believe it.”

Said quarterback Cason McClendon: “That was a very tough loss, but that loss brought us all closer together. We realized we could play with anybody.”

Since falling to Myrtle Beach, Reel’s team (8-3) has put up three double-digit victories — over Marlboro County, South Aiken and Wilson. The Seahawks have flexed some since the beginning of the postseason, too. Myrtle Beach defeated Dreher and Marlboro County by an average of 39 points.

None of those games will have the feel of Friday, though.

The standard capacity of approximately 4,600 bleacher seats at Doug Shaw could be doubled given additional seating options and standing-room only spots.

“It’s great for our county, football in Horry County in general,” Wilson said. “We already have a rivalry with North Myrtle Beach. On top of that, you’re playing in the third round for the chance to go to the lower state championship.

“I’ve been in this business a long time. Things are going to happen. With this game, our kids need to understand that there is so much riding on this game. You have to keep your emotions down.”

The players not letting those emotions get the better of them could ultimately determine which teams advances.

Don’t believe for a second that both Wilson and Reel aren’t trying to find ways to channel them just the same. With all that this game means, both historically and in the immediate, those involved understand how big Friday will be. It will be the end of the line for half, and a celebration for the others.

And it will be infinitely more important than the time these two met 29 days prior.

“I wanted to beat Myrtle Beach my last time playing them,” McClendon said. “I’m really excited to get another shot at them. It’s a rivalry game. Anything can happen.”

Even for the first time.

Photo by Janet Morgan/myhorrynews

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