By John Smithson
The North Myrtle Beach Chiefs won their second consecutive home football playoff 35-10 over North Augusta last Friday night and they will meet the Myrtle Beach Seahawks this Friday at the Hank Hester Sports Complex for the lower state championship.
The Chiefs beat the Seahawks in the final Covid-shortened season three games ago and with that victory they claimed the 6AAAA region championship and the homefield advantage for the first two playoff games. Myrtle Beach meanwhile had to take two long trips to South Aiken and Beaufort to earn their wins and a shot at the lower state, once again facing their local rivals.
The Chiefs were aware of the possibility of the second encounter with Myrtle Beach when they ran onto the field to take on North Augusta, a team they had beaten 38-31 in triple-overtime in the second round of the playoffs in 2019. They knew that they had to get off to a good start against a quality number 10 ranked opponent, which also had earned the top seed in Region 5 with a 4-0 record and was 4-1 entering playoff competition.
When North Augusta won the toss and deferred, meaning the Chiefs would receive the opening kickoff, the strategy was the same as the Chiefs had done in past games, let their defense open the game and hope they could stop the Chiefs and take early control of the game. Problem was no one told the Chiefs Chandler McCall, who took the opening kickoff on his one yard line and raced past every Yellow Jacket player en route to a 99 yard touchdown run.
The Chiefs bench erupted and the sold- out crowd roared with equal gusto, while Zane Smith kicked the extra point for a 7-0 lead, fifteen seconds into the game.
The Chiefs kickoff to the 18 yard line was followed by a two-yard run, a Henry Duke tackle of quarterback Austin Harrell for a twelve yard loss, incomplete pass and a fourth down punt to the Chiefs 47. North Myrtle Beach still felt the adrenalin of the game’s first play. Nyliek Livingston rolled off two runs to the Yellow Jackets 36, and Cameron Freeman closed out the drive with a perfect 36 yard pass to Tyree Smith in the left end zone for a 14-0 lead following another Smith PAT.
North Augusta returned the Chiefs kickoff from the one to the 14 yard line and then got two first downs before their offense stalled at their 41. The fourth down punt hit off the hands of Chandler McCall and was eventually recovered at the North Myrtle Beach 35. North Augusta ran it four straight plays, the last being a two-yard run into the end zone by Jacari Buckson for the touchdown. Drew Stevens kicked the extra point with 5:11 left in the quarter the Yellow Jackets had cut the Chiefs lead to 14-7.
Neither team was able to mount any consistent offense as the first quarter ended with the Chiefs on their 45 yard line following a punt. Devin Montgomery advanced the ball to the North Augusta 40, but three plays saw the Chiefs punting from that same 40 yard line. Smith’s pooch kick was dead at the Yellow Jackets 17 yard line. A long pass play to Kortez Jones and a run or two advanced the ball to the Chiefs 12 yard line. The North Myrtle Beach defense stiffened and Drew Stevens 35 yard field goal drew the visitors closer at 14-10.
The Chiefs started their next drive on their 35 following the kickoff out of bounds, and on the first play Livingston used some good blocking and his own cutting style for a 40 yard run to the Yellow Jackets 25. Livingston was clotheslined after one yard, Freeman ran left to the 17, Livingston took off right to the 7 and then up the middle for a touchdown and a 21-10 lead with 4:25 left in the half. North Augusta was four and out following the Chiefs kickoff and the Chiefs followed their lead with their own four-down possession. The Chiefs punted to the North Augusta 20 but a Chiefs late hit gave the Yellow Jackets the ball on their 35. They used their passing game to advance the ball to the Chiefs 33 with less than a minute left in the half but were forced to try another field goal, this time from 50 yards. The kick failed and the Chiefs took a knee to end the first half leading 21-10.
North Augusta returned the opening kickoff of the second half to their 27 but the Chiefs held them to seven yards on three running plays and they punted to the Chiefs 18. Livingston then burst through a hole in his line to his 34. An incomplete pass to an open Smith was followed by an eleven yard run by Livingston for a first down, but Chiefs center Turner Warren was injured and replaced by Luke Rice.
On the next play Livingston fumbled the ball and after a scramble the Yellow Jackets recovered at their 27 yard line. The Chiefs held, but North Augusta faked the punt and snapped the ball to Buckson, who got a first down at their 40. Buckson and Harrell runs advanced the ball to the Chiefs 40 before the Chiefs defense put a stop to their last serious drive of the night.
The Yellow Jackets punt went out of bounds at the Chiefs 11 and Montgomery quickly got them out of the hole with a 21 yard run to the 33. The Chiefs were forced to punt after three more Montgomery runs, the ball going out of bounds at the North Augusta 12 yard line. The Yellow Jackets ended up at the three yard line after a couple of penalties, a Barlow tackle of Harrell for a loss and were again punting, the ball, downed at their 43 yard line.
Livingston ran to the 34 as the third quarter ended. Livingston ran seven straight plays to the Yellow Jackets 17, but a NMB holding penalty pushed them to the 22 before the North Augusta defense forced a fourth down field goal attempt from the 14, which Smith missed.
North Augusta went nowhere in four plays, missing a pass on fourth down, which gave the ball to the Chiefs at the Yellow Jackets 24. The Chiefs slowly worked the ball to the four yard line, where Freeman ran left on fourth and goal for a touchdown and a 28-10 lead with 4:11 left in the game.
The Chiefs kickoff was returned to the North Augusta 47 and they completed a pass to the Chiefs 44. Then a Yellow Jacket pass interference call moved them back to their 41, followed by a loss by Harrell trying to pass, back to their 37. A delay of game penalty moved the ball to the 32, and a fourth down desperation pass fell incomplete.
The Chiefs Travarius Hooks wasted no time scoring, heading around the left side and into the end zone for the Chiefs 35-10 lead with 2:19 left in the game. The Chiefs stopped the last Yellow Jackets possession with a Zyer Belle interception of a tipped pass and the Chiefs killed the clock thereafter to walk off the field to await the winner of the Myrtle Beach-Beaufort game.
As news of the Myrtle Beach win came in, the Chiefs also learned they would be playing the Seahawks at home the day after Thanksgiving. Coach Matt Reel said it was a “sweet win” but added “since all of what has happened since March, I certainly didn’t think we would have a chance to play in the lower state final game, but these kids fight and play hard and it’s pretty special to host this big game. North Augusta has a good group of guys and a good scheme and I knew we had to be consistent. The guys have trust in each other and they always find a way to get it done,” Reel said
“All year we have had a good defense and our staff prepares them well and our players respond. One key is not giving up the home run balls. We have to make the other team work over and over. If you do that you can win games. Myrtle Beach is a home run team. They are a really good group and they are coming in with key players back and they will have a bigger chip on their shoulders than last game,” Reel said.
“When we lost our center, Luke Rice came in and did a job along with Rashad Duwad snapping the ball on punts and extra points. Coming in and playing like that speaks for the kids we have. We have a mature group who have bought in to the culture and process we have. They have been with me the whole time and they know what to expect. Next Friday we will have our hands full, but we couldn’t ask for anything more than a chance at playing for the state championship at our home stadium,” Reel concluded.