A loss will do little to derail Socastee or North Myrtle Beach in their respective pursuits of a state championship.
Still, bragging rights and keeping an undefeated season on track certainly offer quite the incentive.
Formerly region foes, the Horry County rivals will match wits Friday night in Little River. The latest meeting in a series dating back to 1970, this is the first time the programs have entered the game undefeated this late in the season.
North Myrtle Beach was expected to be here through four games. For the second straight season, the Chiefs are off to a 4-0 start, enabling them to climb to No. 2 in the latest Class 4A state prep media poll — their highest ranking in school history.
Under most circumstances, coaches tend to ask players to shy away from the “noise” going on around them. In less than five games, North Myrtle Beach football coach Matt Reel has already shown a difference from his predecessor, instead asking his team to embrace the opportunity they’ve been afforded.
“Sure, we are a team that wants to take things week-to-week. I want to instill in our guys that the next game is our biggest one,” he said. “But it is kind of difficult not to minimize the ‘noise’ as we’ve come to describe it. Instead, we’ve learned to embrace it.
“I think we started at No. 5 (in the state prep media poll) and now are at No. 2. That isn’t where we want to be, though. The kids have worked their tails off to get to where they are … why not soak (the current experience) in?”
As for Socastee, its early season success has come as a bit of a surprise.
To be honest, they are kids and it’s a challenge everyday to keep them focused on the task at hand. ... The main thing is wanting to be 1-0 this week, so that the moment they had last week can become an even bigger one in the days and weeks ahead.
Socastee football coach Doug Illing
Its win over Myrtle Beach may have served as the biggest eye opener of all, the Braves ending a three-game losing skid with a 51-34 triumph over their hated rival.
Hunter Illing threw for 319 yards and five touchdowns, while the Socastee defense forced six Seahawk turnovers. According to Braves head man Doug Illing, the performance was his team’s “most complete” showing to date.
“It was a good performance for us on both sides (of the football),” Illing said. “We were able to create some turnovers and lucky for us we took advantage, punching them in for scores. That really aided in our victory.”
While admitting the win could serve as a landmark one for Socastee this season, Illing would rather it be a building block. This past week, the Braves head man said his main emphasis has been on making sure players don’t dwell too much on the events of last week.
“To be honest, they are kids and it’s a challenge everyday to keep them focused on the task at hand,” he said. “Thankfully, I think we did a good job of flushing last week and all that happened with Myrtle Beach. The main thing is wanting to be 1-0 this week, so that the moment they had last week can become an even bigger one in the days and weeks ahead.”
North Myrtle Beach believes it is building for a bigger “moment” as well. To have that, however, Reel said his team must get over its early jitters when the lights are brightest.
“We’ve had our share of big games. Timberland, a rivalry game with Loris followed by two games in five days against West Brunswick (N.C.) and Carvers Bay,” he said. “But over the past few years, we’ve tended to start slow in our biggest games. I call that getting ‘bright-lighted,’ in that we did things we didn’t normally do.
“Our task as coaches is to get them prepared for the big stage, and make sure they are comfortable. Hopefully, that can change with this week.”