When North Myrtle Beach travels to Conway’s Backyard for a 7:05 p.m. kickoff Thursday that begins the 2018 high school football season, it will give us a glimpse of a classic paradox – what happens when an unstoppable force clashes with an immovable object?
In 2017, Conway’s defense was an immovable object, allowing just under 15 points per game. North Myrtle Beach scored an average of 38 points per game last year, proving to be an unstoppable force.
While both squads are without key members of their 2017 teams, they return core pieces to reload each strength from a season ago, when Conway went 10-2 and the Chiefs went 12-1.
“With the talent we had on our defense a year ago, you can’t replace those individuals,” said Conway head coach Carlton Terry. “Most of those guys played together for multiple years, coming up from junior varsity and then competing on the field for us. Luckily for us, we had good depth last year and got a lot of guys playing time to get them ready, but we still have a long way to go.”
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For coach Matt Reel and North Myrtle Beach, returning quarterback Cason McClendon has made things easier for his offense to get ready for a tough test in Conway. “Cason is one of those guys that you don’t have to worry about,” Reel said. “We know he’s doing what he’s supposed to and is leading his team. He’s a smart kid with a 4.8 GPA, and he’s been in the program for a couple of years. By now, it’s just about second nature for him.”
The strength of the North Myrtle Beach offense for the past few seasons has been its ability to run the ball and play physical. Last season’s bell cow, Kered Class, piled up nearly 1,500 yards and 16 touchdowns on his way to being named 2017 Sun News Toast of the Coast Football Player of the Year and Region 7-4A Player of the Year.
Replacing his production won’t be easy, but Reel’s plan is to use depth to attack the opposition. “The good news about this year’s team is that we’ve got some guys back that have (produced) before at the varsity level,” he said. “They may not be the guys who got the glory, but they did what was asked of them and took care of the little things for us. We feel like we have five guys that can step up and run the ball for us this season.”
Terry inherited a loaded defense from longtime Conway coach Chuck Jordan, and made the most of his opportunity in year one. Moving into his second year, he’s looking for even more from his team, which is breaking in a new quarterback and replacing defensive studs in linebackers Jaylen Moody and Noah Freshley.
“It’s going to take some time for this year’s defense to gel and become a unit. Right now, they are a little bit ahead of the offense, like most defenses are at this time of year,” Terry said. “I’m looking forward to seeing how they respond against such a good team in North Myrtle Beach. Coach Reel did an excellent job (last season), with a good system and coaching staff. It’s no easy task to win double digit games, it’s tough and they were able to win them all last year. That’s impressive.”
A key returner on the Conway defense, defensive lineman Tonka Hemingway, isn’t being overlooked by North Myrtle Beach. “Mr. Hemingway will be a big issue for us,” Reel said. “We’ve got to keep an eye on him and try our best to not let him make a huge play that will turn the game. It’s going to be a big ask for our offensive line and our coaching staff, but he’s a game-changing type player.”
For both coaches, it’s easy to think that a game in Week Zero isn’t important and won’t affect their standings for the playoffs, but neither head man will let their team look past this week’s opponent.
“We don’t look two or three games down the road,” Reel said. “We try to keep our game plan and our focus simple – this week is the most important game of the year, until next week comes. You can’t live off last year and think that you can just beat any team because you had a good season before, you’ve got to prove it every week in practice and when the lights are on.”