Seahawks’ strange season takes a final twist to state

Mickey Wilson has led his team to state championship games before.

The Myrtle Beach head coach even won two of them in his first five years.

But when the 2018 season comes to a close on Friday after the Class 4A title game against Greer, it will end a campaign that exceeded any sense of normalcy. Frankly, this fall has been something bordering on just plain bizarre for the Seahawks.

Still, Myrtle Beach’s season continues to the final day of the football calendar, and on Friday, it could become just the ninth team in South Carolina High School League history to own at least eight state championship trophies.

“It’s hard for me to describe how proud I am about our players to be able to do that,” Wilson said. “It makes it even that much more impressive that they did that.”

The immediate postponements caused by the arrival of Hurricane Florence in early September were chased by outright cancellations due to the ensuing flooding. After play resumed a month later, more games were moved because of smaller storms. Then the regular season ended as ugly as possible for Myrtle Beach, with a 36-point loss to Hartsville.

The two months of flux and scrambling led to some soul-searching. Somehow, Myrtle Beach rebounded from all the craziness at just the right time.

The Seahawks, a No. 2 playoff seed, dispatched Dreher 50-7 in the opening round, then took advantage of a gifted second-round game by beating Marlboro County 42-14. It was on to another unexpected home game in the third round, where Myrtle Beach defeated North Myrtle Beach 35-7.

It set up a return trip to Hartsville, the site of the 70-34 loss that ended the regular season. The Seahawks have the best defense in all of Class 4A in terms of points per game allowed, but its offense adjusted just as well in the rematch.

Wilson implemented some new sets that had his players shifting from sideline to sideline, and it knocked the Red Foxes off-balance en route to a 52-31 win and a lower state championship.

“We changed our game plan and executed beautifully,” senior lineman Evan Jumper said. “We just needed to gain an edge. We ran it great.”

Changing on the fly, though, was something Myrtle Beach had already learned during a season full of the unexpected.

‘IT MAKES YOU APPRECIATE FOOTBALL EVEN MORE’

Back in 2015 and 2016, Mother Nature briefly put local football on hold, courtesy of the flooding the first year and Hurricane Matthew the next.

What happened this fall, though, was unprecedented.

Within two days of the games played on Friday, Sept. 7, Horry County Schools made the decision to lock down the district to protect against Hurricane Florence. It shut down schools, and the policy to not allow extracurricular activities during that time remained in place throughout the flooding that affected various parts of the county.

The result was that teams did not practice from Thursday, Sept. 6 — the final one before those games the next day — until Tuesday, Oct. 2, the first day Myrtle Beach players were allowed back on Doug Shaw Memorial Stadium field turf in an official capacity. There were a handful of player-only meet-ups between athletes from several local schools, but those were all informal and coaches were not allowed to be present.

“We just kept going. We came together as a team,” senior running back Jermani Green said this week. “We’d go out on the field and practice by ourselves. It really showed how all of us can become leaders. It really just brought us together. It brought us closer.”

Regardless, by all accounts of district records, it was the longest in-season delay in games and practices in HCS history.

“We were basically away from our football team for three-and-a-half weeks. In this day and age, there is no time during the year when you’re away from your guys that much,” Wilson said. “We get done a season and go right into out-of-season workouts. We take the July 4th week off.”

In that span, Myrtle Beach lost its two highest-profile non-region games. There was the much-anticipated showdown with rising Carolina Forest (which eventually finished second in Region VI-5A and won a home playoff game before bowing out in the second round) on Sept. 14 and the annual Victory Bell game against Conway, which was originally scheduled for the next Friday.

Both of them were wiped off the books, along with their accompanying gate receipts. That second part came into effect down the road.

In the immediate, schedule changes were only just beginning.

Myrtle Beach’s originally scheduled region opener against Hartsville had to be moved to the newly added Week 12 — a move the SCHSL went with to alleviate some of the strain on coastal programs. So when the Seahawks were finally allowed back on the practice field on Oct. 2, they were doing so in order to get ready for Darlington.

That game was pushed back one day, to Saturday, Oct. 6, since Horry County Schools required at least four days of practice before a game.

The Seahawks had Friday games the next two weeks before weather forced even more scheduling audibles. Myrtle Beach’s region rivalry game against North Myrtle Beach and the region clash at Hartsville were each moved to Thursday kickoffs, in part because schools were forced to maximize their remaining gate potentials after losses earlier in the year. They couldn’t risk playing in front of empty bleachers during heavy rains.

Whether moving up a day influenced it or not, those were easily the two clumsiest games of the entire year for Wilson’s squad. Myrtle Beach escaped the Chiefs with a 17-14 win before getting thumped 70-34 the following Thursday at Hartsville.

How they responded, though, could partially be chalked up to the oddities earlier in the year.

“It makes you appreciate football even more,” Wilson said. “Being able to be together as a team, you realize as coaches and players how special that is. We missed out on that. Our kids put a little more value on that. That was some major adversity. Once we did get beat by Hartsville, [going] through all that probably helped us regroup.”

EXPERIENCE IN THE UNKNOWN

Pulling off the victory in Kelleytown Stadium last week was huge because it sent the Seahawks to the state championship.

What the team learned about itself while it reached the tail end of its journey was important, too.

Being able to adjust to any set of circumstances while keeping the season alive eliminates some of the nerves of playing Greer, a team Myrtle Beach has never played in a full game.

“We’d play Greer in 7-on-7. They were large. They were big kids,” Jumper said. “We’ll just dive into film and see what they do. I don’t know a lot about them and what they do. They’re kind of like us — always kind of lingering [deep] in the playoffs. Obviously, they have great a program.”

Much like the win over Hartsville, Myrtle Beach will have relatively little time to prepare for one of the best teams in the state. The Seahawks know the Yellow Jackets have a top-flight running back in Dre Williams and a defensive line that has broken down some really good offenses. Overall, Greer is the third-highest scoring team in Class 4A, averaging 42.2 points per game, while giving up a second-best-in-the class 15.1 points per contest.

By comparison, the Seahawks are No. 1 in team defense (14.6 points per game) and fourth in scoring (41.5).

Impressive numbers all the way around, as you’d expect from two teams that made it this far.

How Myrtle Beach got to this point, though, is overruling the fact that no current player has been this far. The closest any of them have been was as fans or ball boys for those 2013 and 2010 championship teams. That lack of title game experience pales in comparison to everything they’ve been through this fall, though.

The season of irregularities and distractions has taught the Seahawks how to better prepare and focus.

Because of it, here they are.

Photo by Janet Morgan/myhorrynews

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