For three quarters, North Myrtle Beach gave Carolina Forest all it could handle.
But in the final 12 minutes, the Panthers dug a little deeper on defense and erupted on offense to pull away for a 28-9 win over the Chiefs on Friday night.
Behind 193 rushing yards and three touchdowns from Mark Timmons, the Panthers won their fourth straight, while the Chiefs remained winless, but showed improvement, according to coach Perry Woolbright.
"We've gotten better each week, but the tough part is we haven't gotten better in that win-loss column," Woolbright said. "We've just got to keep fighting and hopefully things will turn in our favor. The great things about AAA football are that the first five games don't matter. It's all about the region, so we've got to regroup, come back next week ready to go."
Carolina Forest got on the board first with a 10-play, 81-yard drive polished off by Timmons' first touchdown, a 22-yard run with 2:12 left in the first quarter.
The Chiefs' defense stepped up from there, forcing a punt and a turnover on downs on Carolina Forest's next two possessions before the offense found a groove.
After the turnover on downs, North Myrtle Beach quarterback Timmy Bellamy engineered an eight-play, 45-yard drive that was capped when the Chiefs lined up in a Wildcat formation with a direct snap to tailback Brandon Johnson, who found Temmarick Hemingway with a 12-yard jump pass over the middle to tie the game with 1:05 to play in the first half.
"We've had a little bit of first-half issues the last three ballgames," Carolina Forest coach Drew Hummell said. "...We've got to figure out a way to come out of the gates better with execution and sustaining things better than what we are doing right now."
The Chiefs started the third quarter with renewed energy, and squashed a Panthers drive by forcing a Timmons fumble at his own 43-yard line, but the offense couldn't match the effort and North Myrtle Beach was forced to punt.
The Chiefs got another chance on Carolina Forest's next possession when Jameka Gause picked off Daniel Daly, but the Panthers defense stepped up again to force another turnover on downs.
That's when Carolina Forest took control. Some tweaks to offensive formations, including bringing receivers in closer to help block and bringing in Tyler Keane under center to replace Daly, helped spark the Panthers' offense.
"Danny has been a little bit hurt and he got off to a shaky start. He was having a little bit of a problem with some throws and things. I don't know if it was back-related or not, but we had to try something to get a little spark going there," Hummell said. "We knew we were going to have to try to do something in the pass game, because they were blitzing more people than we could handle. We've got to get better in our pass game to take the pressure off of Timmons. ... We knew that we had put them in the ballgame and this was going to be a battle to rest of the way. They had so much pressure coming on the inside that had to make sure we could get the edge sealed."
A short punt gave the Panthers a first down on the Chiefs' 49, and Timmons scampered in on the first snap to push the lead to 14-7.
A fumbled snap on the Chiefs' next possession gave the Panthers the ball back, and Timmons took the ball for three straight carries, the third a 31-yard scoring run.
A Christopher Nwanegwo interception of a Bellamy pass at the Panthers' 3 ended the Chiefs next drive, though North Myrtle Beach got a pair of points as the Panthers opted to run the ball out of the back of the end zone for a safety.
But on the post-safety kickoff, the Chiefs' return man just let the ball roll, and the Panthers jumped on the live ball and had first-and-goal at the 9, and Harold Atkinson took it in from there to close scoring.
"The kids played really hard tonight. We just didn't get enough big plays on offense. We had had stuff wide open and we either dropped it or just missed it. We need to connect on those big plays," Woolbright said.