Almost immediately, Blair Hardin felt something was different.
And inevitably, his North Myrtle Beach team’s play reflected that on Friday night.
Staggered early by several big plays, the Chiefs were unable to answer the bell in their Lower State 4A semifinal matchup with Chapin, falling 38-7.
“We knew they were a good, talented football team with good speed,” Hardin said. “They made big plays, and we didn’t.”
Explosive plays came early and often for the Eagles, who took a little more than two minutes to post the game’s opening points. Getting yards in chunks through the air, Chapin moved 69 yards in seven plays, as quarterback Cooper Bemis hit pay dirt with 6-yard run give it a 7-0 advantage.
After a 3-and out for North Myrtle Beach and a poor punt led to great field position, the Eagles needed only one play to strike again. Dipping into their bag of tricks, a pass from wide receiver Kale Rhame hit fellow wideout Xzavion Gordon in stride for a 46-yard scoring toss.
According to Chapin head coach Justin Gentry, it was vital to get off to a fast start.
“It was important. Our guys really came out ready to play,” he said.
North Myrtle Beach (11-2) had more than its share of opportunities, though.
Immediately following Chapin’s second touchdown, the Chiefs drove inside the Eagles’ 5-yard line midway through the opening quarter. But as would become a common theme over the course of the evening, missed opportunities and a stingy Chapin defense gave North Myrtle Beach fits.
“We pressed upon our guys that they have to get better,” Gentry said. “The defense has taken that to heart. (North Myrtle Beach) puts a lot of points on the board, and our kids were up to the challenge.”
North Myrtle Beach eventually got on the board to end the first, quarterback Cason McClendon connecting with tight end Cullin Mitchell for a 16-yard touchdown. The score gave the Chiefs a glimmer of hope in a quarter throughly dominated by Chapin – but it would not last long.
Chapin (11-2) answered swiftly on its ensuing drive, Gordon’s second touchdown of the evening pushing its lead to 21-7. The speedy Eagles receiver had five catches for 103 yards on the night, along with those two scores.
The Eagles had plenty opportunities to extend their advantage further, but their own share of miscues kept North Myrtle Beach within striking distance at half.
Following the break, Chapin put the finishing touches on a dominant night.
On the second play of the third quarter, North Myrtle Beach running back T.J. Gore fumbled, gifting the Eagles with excellent field position at the Chiefs’ 32-yard line. It would take only four plays for Chapin to turn the mistake into points, as Case Barber’s 5-yard run extended its lead to 28-7.
“It was a huge shift in momentum for us to score,” said Chapin defensive back Will Kroske, who recovered the Gore fumble. “That was sort of the dagger to get up three scores.”
Shortly after, Eagles wideout Cole Owens effectively put the game out of reach by tight-roping the sideline, breaking several North Myrtle Beach tacklers in making it to the end zone for a touchdown and a 35-7 lead. Chapin kicker Scott Samson would add a field goal midway through the fourth for the game’s final margin.
For a Chiefs team accustomed to running the ball at will, yards were hard-earned against Chapin on Friday night. In addition to its lowest scoring output of the season, North Myrtle Beach was held to 86 yards on the ground, also a season-low.
Hardin said the reason was simple – his team got outplayed in the trenches.
“Their front whipped us on both sides of the football, and it was what won them the football game,” he said.
CHP — Cooper Bemis 6 run (Scott Samson kick)
CHP — Xzavion Gordon 46 pass from Kale Rhame (Samson kick)
NMB — Cullin Mitchell 16 pass from Cason McClendon
CHP — Gordon 8 pass from Trad Beatty (Samson kick)
CHP — Case Barber 5 run (Samson kick)
CHP — Cole Owens 63 pass from Beatty (Samson kick)
CHP — Samson 40 field goal
Rushing: NMB — T.J. Gore 11-79, Kered Class 16-51, Tyler Gore 2-17, Cason McClendon 3-3; CHP — Trad Beatty 10-113, Mark Shealy 9-63, Cooper Bemis 6-33, Case Barber 5-21.
Passing: NMB — McClendon 11-31-1 170; CHP — Bemis 7-20-0 104, Beatty 5-8-0 108.
Receiving: NMB — Dondre Thompson 5-62, Xavier Clarida 3-41, Class 1-35, Cullin Mitchell 1-16; CHP — Xzavian Gordon 5-103, Cole Owens 4-110, Will Register 3-35, Kale Rhame 1-10.