Myrtle Beach football readies for playoffs with young squad

For The Sun NewsNovember 7, 2013 

Myrtle Beach quarterback Drayton Arnold unleashes a pass during the Seahawks' upset of North Myrtle Beach.

BY MATT SILFER — For The Sun News Buy Photo

— Three days into daylight saving time, Mickey Wilson’s watch was still an hour ahead of schedule.

The Myrtle Beach coach, preparing for Friday’s game against Berkeley in the first round of the Class AAA playoffs, had bigger things on his mind that fidgeting with the electronics of the timepiece.

The Seahawks, 6-4 overall, have delivered their most trying season of Wilson’s five-year tenure. And while many coaches would trade places with him without second thought, it doesn’t diminish how difficult parts of 2013 have been for a team that won at least 10 games in each of the last seven seasons.

Inexperienced players were overwhelmed early. Losses to powerhouses Richmond (N.C.) and South Florence were one thing. Losing at home to a Carolina Forest team that has yet to win another game all season was nothing short of heartburn-inducing.

But as bad as most of August and September were, the team started to make things right with last week’s win over North Myrtle Beach. It guaranteed a winning season. It also ensured the Seahawks weren’t forced to go on the road against one of the top teams in Class AAA to open the playoffs.

It could be the path toward something special, even if it doesn’t come until next year.

“We knew early on in the year we were young and we were inexperienced,” Wilson said. “We knew we had a very tough non-region schedule and there were going to be some bumps in the road. We’ve seen a lot of guys get better. We’ve seen a lot of young guys grow up. A lot of our first-time starters have gotten better. It’s not the situation we’re used to being in, being 6-4. But we’re excited that we’ve seen a lot of guys get better.”

The improvement has been evident in winning five of the last six games. Myrtle Beach took down annual rival Conway and went on to four region victories and a second-place finish there.

Tailback Brandon Sinclair has remained influential throughout. Despite missing last week’s game, he is the top rusher in the area, averaging 168 yards per game on the ground.

Of late, it’s not just him. Quarterback Drayton Arnold has started to show signs of turning into the dynamic playmaker Wilson originally hoped for. He still shows signs of youth – with 10 interceptions – but also great promise. His three touchdowns against North Myrtle Beach spurred the much-needed victory.

Junior receivers Kelton Greene (544 yards) and Malik Waring (402 yards) each have six touchdown receptions. Meanwhile, junior C.J. Finkley and freshman Keyonte Sessions have also displayed solid potential in backup receiver roles.

It already has many believing Myrtle Beach could return to its former glory in 2014.

“Next year, we’re going to step it up. We’re going to have to,” Greene said. “We’re going to have a lot of seniors.”

In order to get a jumpstart on that, the current crop of youngsters may have to prove they can win when it matters most. Region victories are nice; but they haven’t been the threshold for how fans viewed this program since before Wilson took over.

Whether or not a realistic shot at the state title exists, Myrtle Beach is expected to make noise come playoff time. The team is 11-3 in postseason games since Wilson took over.

History, though, may be a moot point long term.

Wilson contends the playoffs are as much about match-ups as anything else. Often, he doesn’t know how his team will execute until after kickoff. Survive and advance is his M.O.

Thanks to some success in region play, the Seahawks improved their chances of doing that, as well as delaying thoughts of next season. It is then that 13 starters and plenty more key reserves from tonight’s game will be back in uniform.

Add in the fact that Myrtle Beach’s non-region schedule appears to be significantly more manageable with South Florence and Richmond County off the slate, and another 10-win season could be in the works.

“It gets exciting when you look down the road,” Wilson said. “Offensively, I think our tight end, Graham Vaughn, is the only skill guy we’re going to lose. Defensively, we have a good group coming back. I think the future can be exciting. But there are so many variables that come into play with that.”

Like Wilson’s watch, time will eventually tell. But what the Seahawks do with the here and now could go a long way in determining what they are capable of in the future.

Contact IAN GUERIN at ian@ianguerin.com.

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