Region 6-5A: Panthers run past Braves; Sharks falter

Carolina Forest kept its slim hopes at a Region VI-5A championship alive.

At the very least, the Panthers can rest easy knowing their chances at the first home playoff game since moving to the state’s largest classification are even better.

Courtesy of a 35-7 over last-place Socastee Thursday night to wrap up its regular season, coach Marc Morris’ team had only the least possible scenario standing in the way playing in front of the Black Hole in the opening round of the Class 5A postseason next week. Considering Carolina Forest thought it had blown some of its postseason positioning with a loss to West Florence two weeks ago, closing out the regular season with a pair of victories was a welcome sight.

“It’s all heart. It’s all about that family and coming together after the loss and seeing how we were going to respond to it,” Carolina Forest quarterback Mason Garcia said. “We were working hard. I think we came out and showed it.”

The lone scenario preventing that coveted playoff home game from happening would be a Conway blowout of region leader West Florence on Friday, something that would tip the scales into Carolina Forest’s favor via the region’s third tie-breaker. The Tigers would have to win by more than 19 points.

Stranger things have happened in this region over the years, obviously.

But either way, Carolina Forest (7-1, 4-1 in the region) tried its darnedest to focus on what it could control: Winning the game in front of it and putting itself in the best possible position. Against the Braves, the end result wasn’t in doubt for long.

The fourth consecutive victory over the Braves started slow – as both teams had a pair of turnovers in the opening half. However, Carolina Forest slowly wore down Socastee with a rushing attack that included another 100-yard game from David Legette, 198 passing yards and two touchdowns from Garcia and 430 yards of offense in total.

The Panthers defense shut out Socastee for the first 47 minutes, and other than that late Darius Lewis touchdown run, the other other bright spot for the Braves was sophomore running back Christian Inman’s 179 yards.

None of it could prevent the Braves’ Mother Nature-shortened season from ending at 1-7 overall and 0-5 in Region VI-5A. According to SCFootballHistory.com, it was the first time since 1978 Socastee failed to win at least one region game in a season.

Carolina Forest, meanwhile has carved out a different type of history already this year. In addition to guaranteeing the school’s highest-ever winning percentage in a single season, the Panthers can also add that potential home playoff game to the mix. The only other time the program did that was in 2004, when it opened at home in the Class 3A postseason under interim coach Robby Brown after a second-place region finish.

Doing that at the 5A level, though, would mean so much more.

“It’s all about winning a state championship. When I first got here, it was one of those things that was so far-fetched that nobody believed it,” Morris said. “The main thing you have to do each season is set yourself up to give yourself the best opportunity to do that. You need to host a playoff game and somebody needs to come to your stadium in the first round. Hopefully that’s what will be happening after [the Conway-West Florence game]. We felt that was important for this program to get that notch under our belt.”

* South Florence 35, St. James 6: The Sharks (1-7, 1-4) fell short in their bid for a playoff berth in a loss to the Bruins (5-5, 2-3).

Photo by Janet Morgan/myhorrynews

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