Week 0: Chiefs top Tigers; Sharks beat Lions at horn

Matt Reel sighed more than once when talking about his team during the preseason.

He rolled his eyes a few times.

And he said over and over that he just kind of wished for the best.

On paper, everything pointed to North Myrtle Beach struggling in its season opener. Yet, Reel, the third-year head coach who is already the third-winningest in program history, watched as the system he helped create wore down one of the best defensive lines in the state and his ball-hawking defense shut down an inexperienced Class 5A program.

During much of the second half of the Chiefs’ 24-7 victory over Conway to kick off 2019, it was the Tigers who were showing a defeated attitude.

“When I saw their guys cramping and worn down and I saw our guys sprinting to the line, that confidence in me made me [think] ‘We’re good,’” Reel said.

When he said “their guys,” he was specifically referring to the Tigers’ defensive line, consisting of South Carolina commitment Tonka Hemingway, along with Tate Finklea, Tim Shelton and Andy Jordan, as well as a handful of subs who were called upon Friday to try to make something happen.

By all accounts, the group kept Conway in the game much longer than it could have, especially given the advantage that North Myrtle Beach had on the other side of the ball.

The Chiefs held the ball for 31-plus minutes of the 48-minute game. They ran 63 offensive plays compared to the Tigers’ 33. And they put up 296 total yards of offense versus 125 for Conway.

Reel’s squad — which he served as the offensive coordinator before taking over the head coaching duties prior to the 2017 season — has run similarly lopsided games like that in the past.

But Friday was different. In addition to the star-studded defensive line it was the playing, North Myrtle Beach was also without starting skill position players Messiah Gore and Zyon Bell and starting center Hayden Best.

In their place, first-time center Alex McGillicuddy was perfect throughout the evening snapping into the shotgun formation despite taking over the position on Wednesday, first-year starting quarterback Ramsey Lewis rushed for 125 yards (and threw for another 72 – mostly to Malik Livingston) and Devin Montgomery chipped in another 48 yards on the ground. North Myrtle Beach was called for only four penalties, and it didn’t turn the ball over once.

It was further evidence of the next-man-up philosophy, a product of program building from the lower levels.

“We made a statement,” Lewis said before commenting on some of the team’s preseason struggles. “At first, people looked at the Carolina Forest scrimmage and the 27-2 [final score] and said ‘They can’t do it.’ We showed the state what we can really do.

“We could tell at the end of the game they were huffing and puffing. They were tired. That’s when we decided to step on their throat – run the ball, run the ball, run the ball.”

Meanwhile, the Conway offense that had coach Carlton Terry feeling better than he did a year ago about it never really got anything going.

The Tigers had just two plays that gained more than 10 yards or more, including the 68-yard Xavier Kinlaw catch and score at the end of the first quarter. But that was about it.

Conway had seven three-and-outs and Hemingway was asked to punt eight times.

“We’ve got to do some soul-searching and get better on offense,” Terry said. “There were some bright spots on defense. We did some really good things. But they continued to hammer and hammer and eventually they cracked our armor.”

In doing so, the Chiefs showed themselves something they desperately needed to see.

Even though they held a Top 10 preseason ranking in Class 4A from the statewide media, even though Lewis and Montgomery and plenty of other returning talent was back in uniform, there was a doubt of keeping up what this team had done in Reel’s first two seasons.

Reassurance came in the form of the 21st victory in the last 25 overall games.

And proof of the program’s depth came earlier than most expected in 2019.

“We try to build ourselves on certain things — toughness, mental toughness, physicality, being the team that’s in the best shape when we play,” Reel said. “Now, early in the year, those things are very evident to me. Having those older guys take hold of what we’ve been doing for the last three years, that’s huge.”

By Ian Guerin/myhorrynews

St. James 32, Loris 28

A four-yard touchdown run from St. James’ Aryon Armstrong with 24.2 seconds broke the hearts of the Loris Lions as they fell to the Sharks 32-28 on the road.

“I am really proud of how hard our kids played tonight,” said Loris head coach Jamie Snider. “I thought they left it all out there on the field but at the end of the day, we made too many mistakes at all the wrong times.”

Loris had a rough start to the game as defensive back Amarion Riggins muffed the first punt, handing the ball to St. James inside the red zone. However, the Lions defense stood tall and only allowed a field goal.

Things would go from bad to worse for the Lions as St. James’ Ethan White connected with Randy Smith for a 39-yard touchdown toss to put the Sharks up 10-0 with just under three minutes in the first quarter.

Loris finally got on the board early in the second quarter thanks to a quarterback keeper from Gage Conner from a yard out and the score would remain 10-7 going into the halftime break.

Junior wide receiver Brice Faircloth came alive for the Lions midway through the third quarter, getting a huge 52-yard run to get Loris inside the St. James 30 before capping off the drive with a six-yard touchdown run to make it 14-10 Loris.

Faircloth finished the game with 78 yards rushing on eight carries. He also had five catches for 29 yards.

After taking a 17-14 lead, St. James looked to score again early in the fourth quarter but instead found themselves trailing after a fumble ended up being recovered in the end zone by James Hughes.

St. James would shake off the mistake and go on a 13-play, 63-yard drive to retake the lead and get a two-point conversion to make it 25-21 with 3:29 remaining in the game.

Much like his teammate Brice Faircloth, junior wide receiver Chris Gilchrist would come up huge on the ensuing drive, getting two 30-yard receptions, the latter being a touchdown to give the Lions a 28-25 lead with just over two and a half minutes remaining.

Snider said that the performances from Faircloth and Gilchrist is something he expects week in and week out for his team.

“They keep doing what they’re doing and we get everyone else right and improve on our mistakes, that’s what next week is about,” he said.

The Sharks made their final drive of the game count, going 69 yards and seeing Armstrong march his way into the end zone to give St. James the late lead.

A chance at a comeback for the Lions would be dashed immediately when Connor’s pass was intercepted by Justice Williams. Following the loss, the Loris players were extremely upset with the result as they walked off the field.

“This means something to them,” Snider said. “We just have to get better.”

The Lions (0-1) will look to bounce back at home against North Myrtle Beach next week. The Chiefs defeated Conway on Friday 24-7.

“Coach Reel and his staff always do a tremendous job,” Snider said. “We will have our hands full at home against them next week for sure.”

Kickoff between Loris and North Myrtle Beach is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. St. James (1-0), meanwhile, will host Hilton Head at 7:30 p.m.

Ian Livingston, myhorynews

West Brunswick 28, Socastee 0

The Socastee High football team learned just how far it still has to go to be a competitive Class 5A program in Friday night’s 28-0 loss to visiting West Brunswick (N.C.) in the season opener for both teams.

Despite the sloppy debut of the Braves’ new triple-option offense and the shutout defeat to the Trojans, Socastee first-year interim coach Marty Jacobs said he is not discouraged by his team’s inaugural performance.

“We knew it wasn’t going to happen over night,” said Jacobs, a former assistant who is filling in for former head coach Doug Illing. “I still believe in these guys. They’re going to keep working hard.”

The only way is up for the Braves’ offense, which committed four turnovers and was limited to 138 total yards and nine first downs. West Brunswick rolled up almost twice the total yardage (260) and got a pair of rushing touchdowns from quarterback Jay Fletcher.

“West Brunswick has the best team they’ve had since I’ve been at Socastee,” said Jacobs, an assistant since 2007. “I thought we played with them early on but mistakes and turnovers hurt us. That’s something we have to work on.”

Neither team appeared ready for prime time early as the first quarter saw three combined turnovers. The lone score came on a safety on a botched punt attempt by Socastee for an early 2-0 deficit. The Trojans followed with a touchdown drive to carry an 8-0 lead into halftime.

Socastee offense continued to struggle in the second half, turning the ball over on all four possessions – two by fumble, one via interception and another on a loss of downs. The turnovers set up three West Brunswick touchdown runs to clinch the victory.

The Braves (0-1) get a bye next week to work the kinks out of their triple-option attack. They will host Oceanside Collegiate Academy on Sept. 6.

“This is the first time we have run (the triple option) in five years, and this is only Week 0,” Jacobs said. “I think people are going to be surprised by how much we improve over the season.”

By Terry Massey/myhorrynews

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