By John Smithson
The #2 North Myrtle Beach Chiefs football team won the Lower State championship last Friday by beating rival Myrtle Beach 37-10 at the Hank Hester Sports Complex. The Chiefs remained undefeated with their ninth win and set up a championship game at Benedict College Saturday at 7:30 pm against upper state winner and top-ranked A.C. Flora.
The Chiefs won their first-ever lower state championship and now have their first shot at a AAAA state title. All of this has happened in a year with a shortened season due to the Coronavirus pandemic, which somehow has not affected this team and its continued drive to Columbia on Saturday.
Last Friday the Chiefs met their rivals and nemesis Myrtle Beach, a team they had beaten 34-6 in their final game of the season and a Seahawks squad that had also won its two away playoff games to set up the rematch for a lower state title.
As the Chiefs have done in past games when they won the toss, they deferred and went on defense following the Chiefs kickoff which was returned to the Seahawks 21 yard line. Quarterback Ryan Burger ran for a first down to the Chiefs 35 but three penalties kept the Seahawks on their 35 and Burger was hit and fumbled on second down. The Chiefs recovered at the Myrtle Beach 37 and two plays later Chiefs QB Cameron Freeman faked a handoff left and took off around right end for a 25 yard touchdown run and Zane Smith’s PAT for a 7-0 lead and 9:38 left in the first quarter.
The Chiefs kickoff was returned 24 yards to the Myrtle Beach 25. The Seahawks completed four passes and drove to the Chiefs 34 yard line but their drive ended on a sack by Trey Baker at the Chiefs 42. Six straight runs by Nyliek Livingston put the ball on the Seahawks 19. Freeman then fumbled and the Seahawks recovered at their 8 yard line. The Chiefs pressured Burger and he lost seven yards to the one- yard line. On second down the Chiefs stuffed the Seahawks runner trying to get out of the end zone for a safety and a 9-0 Chiefs lead.
The Myrtle Beach free kick went out of bounds at the Chiefs 27 but the referees penalized the Seahawks back to their 45. The Chiefs couldn’t get a first down and turned the ball over a foot short after a fourth down run by Devin Montgomery. A Burger to JJ Jones pass moved the ball to the Myrtle Beach 42 as the first quarter ended. The Seahawks drove to the Chiefs 41 but were forced to punt the ball to the Chiefs Chandler McCall who returned it from the eight to the 22 yard line. Four plays later Zane Smith punted and the Seahawks returned the ball to their 30 yard line.
After a bad snap and four-yard Burger loss, he completed a pass to Jones at their 49, and two plays later Burger ran for a first down at the NMB 49, and then scrambled for another first down. The Seahawks snap on second down went over the head of Burger and was recovered by the Chiefs TJ Cox at the Chiefs 35. A long run by Livingston and a pass to Nick Moss set up a Chiefs first down on the Seahawks 19 yard line. Myrtle Beach was penalized to the 4 yard line and two Freeman runs scored the touchdown, the second a cutback by Freeman into the end zone for a 16-0 Chiefs lead after the PAT and 2:02 left in the first half.
Myrtle Beach began their drive after a Smith kick into the end zone and they moved the ball all the way to the Chiefs 27 but had to settle for a Sullivan Hardin 42 yard field goal with 10.6 seconds left, and a Chiefs kneel-down after the Myrtle Beach kickoff made it 16-3 at halftime.
The Chiefs received the second half kickoff, made a first down, but a holding penalty eventually forced a punt to the Myrtle Beach 33 yard line. Myrtle Beach took only four plays to score, with a 45 yard pass to JJ Jones pulling the Seahawks to within six points at 16-10.
After the Myrtle Beach kickoff, the Chiefs Livingston ran six times and gained yardage to the Myrtle Beach 37. After Freeman lost to the 45, Livingston rushed to the 40 and a Nick Moss reception to the 28 was followed by more Livingston runs and a fourth and 1 conversion by Livingston. Following a Seahawks timeout, Freeman passed to Chase Simmons down the left sideline, and Simmons fought his way past defenders and dove into the end zone for a touchdown and a 23-10 Chiefs lead and 2:04 on the third quarter clock.
The Seahawks ran three plays for minus 2 yards after receiving the Chiefs kickoff. Their fourth down snap to the punter was fumbled at the 4 yard line and the Chiefs Montgomery quickly scored to up the lead to 30-10 with 13 seconds left in the third quarter.
After a kick return to their 26, Myrtle Beach entered the final quarter with a drive to the Chiefs 15 yard line, punctuated by penalties by both teams, and a failed fourth down play by Myrtle Beach, a sixteen yard loss to midfield. The Chiefs used Livingston for four runs to the Seahawks 26, Then Montgomery gained a yard before Freeman faked right and took off again for a 25 yard touchdown run and a 37-10 score.
The Seahawks last offensive series was an eleven-play drive from their 28 to the Chiefs 31, where another fourth down pass was broken up by the Chiefs. Montgomery used some clock and gained some yardage to the Myrtle Beach 30, with the drive and the game ending on the 20, as Wil Murray took a knee and the Chiefs celebrated their first lower state championship.
As the game ended, the small sellout crowd and players jumped and celebrated their historic win. It was a night to remember, and for long-time fans, former students, teachers, coaches, and those that listened or watched the game, it was a common moment of exhilaration and pride.
It was also another typical offensive and defensive game for the Chiefs. Nyliek Livingston ran for 176 yards and got assistance from Devin Montgomery with 38 yards, and key runs from quarterback Cam Freeman, with 68 yards and three touchdowns. On the defensive side the Chiefs totally stopped the Seahawks running game, which totaled -69 yards after accounting for losses and sacked quarterbacks. Seahawks quarterback Ryan Burger was 20 for 39 passing but the Chiefs gave up only one score by air. Trey Baker was a big presence in the Myrtle Beach backfield, with five sacks and seven solo tackles to bolster a smothering Chiefs defense with an “all-hands-on-deck” mentality.
Coach Matt Reel called the win “unreal.” We have come a long way in the last seven years. There were things we knew we had to change, especially the culture. It was a struggle, but we got it done. We were able to get teams to the third round of the playoffs and last year was a disappointment, but this group of guys is special. We stayed out of the COVID and fought the battle to get here tonight. I think I have the best staff in the state and our guys gave everything they could. They have responded with good practices, and getting after people is who we are,” Reel said.
“We beat a good team by 27 points and are 9-0. We just played our normal game, played our defensive schemes and played as a unit. On both sides of the ball we have eleven guys who do their job, are disciplined and aggressive and are no better than they were tonight. I trust our coaches and they do a tremendous job. I let them coach and they take responsibility and accountability for what they do. Next week we have a tough opponent in A.C. Flora. They are a really good team, physical and strong up front on offense and defense. But, we are playing for a state championship and I am as excited as I can be,” Reel concluded.