High School Football

Myrtle Beach follows different path to same end

It's only fitting that the 2008 Class AAA state championship game was held in Clemson while this year's title match will be played in Columbia.

After all, these Seahawks took a different route to reach the same goal.

Typically when a team has a chance to repeat as champions it's due to continuity in the program. The 2009 Myrtle Beach football team is atypical.

This year's Seahawks were not only defending their state title; they also seemed to be constantly defending against forces beyond their control.

They lost top scorer Jamere Valentine and defensive leader DeMazio Skelton. Coach Scott Earley took another job in the offseason and left the post to offensive coordinator Mickey Wilson, a rookie head coach. The Seahawks played "the toughest schedule in Myrtle Beach history,'' according to Wilson, and they suffered significant injuries and setbacks along the way. And like most defending champs, they faced the pitfalls of complacency.

Yet one year after hoisting the big trophy in Death Valley, the Seahawks are in prime position to do it again tonight at Williams-Brice Stadium.

"I'm so proud of these kids for what they've accomplished,'' said Wilson. "They've had to adjust to a new coach, they've had to play a tough schedule, they've had to step into new roles. The whole time they never lost sight of our goal, to get back to the state championship. That's not easy, but they did it.''

For those who are still living in the past and basking in last year's glory, here's a position-by-position breakdown of the Seahawks and how they did it.

Offense

The biggest constant in both state finalist teams is quarterback Everett Golson, the spark that fires the Seahawks' high-octane offense. The junior has only improved in his third year as the starter, completing 207 of his 323 passes for 3,258 yards, 45 touchdowns and two interceptions, one of which was a tipped ball. Golson has an unheard-of QB rating of 193.5 this year. The NCAA record for passer efficiency rating in a season is 186.0.

"You can't say enough about Everett,'' said Wilson. "He's one of those special players that doesn't come along very often. He's smart and athletic and a great leader, and he knows how to run this offense and get everyone around him involved.''

And he has a great supporting cast, especially at wide receiver. Seven players have double-digit receptions on the season, led by junior Donte Sumpter's 73 catches for 999 yards and 13 touchdowns - team highs in all three categories. He has filled the go-to role vacated by Valentine.

Throw in wideouts Jaquan Wilson (43 catches, 551 yards, 6 TDs) and Dallas Goodman (40 catches, 721 yards, 10 TDs) and tight ends Steven Cobb (33 catches, 567 yards, 10 TDs) and Jerrod Jackson (18 catches, 315 yards, 5TDs) and you've got yourself a real air show.

Ironically, it is a converted wide receiver who has led the Seahawks' underrated rushing game this year. When running back Daiquone Ford went down with an injury early in the season, Morgan Byrd moved into the backfield and ran like a natural at the position.

Anchoring the Seahawks' option attack, Byrd gained 709 yards on 111 carries and ran for 20 touchdowns (plus four more receiving). With Ford back healthy and splitting reps at RB, gaining 445 yards on 71 carries with five TDs, they form a strong 1-2 punch for the ground game.

Of course none of this goes anywhere without the men up front, and the Seahawks have soared behind a retooled offensive line. Tackles Lucas Britt (6-0, 190) and James Power (6-3, 227), guards Coleton Brown (6-0, 191), Jason Rexroad (6-4, 262) and Jake Painter (5-11, 200) and center George Kandris (6-1, 197) have held their own against bigger competition and will have to do the same tonight against Clinton if they hope to bring home the hardware.

Defense

Often hidden in the shadow of the offense's "Greatest Show on Turf'' is the underrated but over-performing Seahawks' defense. The unit has allowed 13 points or fewer in the last seven games for a total of 59, which is six fewer than it gave up in a 65-14 loss to state-power Byrnes back in Week 2.

It all starts up front with defensive end Tevin Hunt (6-1, 210), the lone senior on the line who leads the team in sacks with 13. Junior tackles Ervin Brown (6-1, 261) and Devante Simmons (6-1, 251) join sophomore end Tyler Knox (6-3, 190), who replaced injured leading tackler Trey Vivien late in the year.

Now the team's top-tackling honor belongs to senior Steven Cobb (6-2, 192), who anchors a linebacking corps of Josh Roberts (6-0, 190) and T.J. Sutton (6-0, 140). Cobb's 63 tackles along with Roberts' 47 and Sutton's 36 make for a strong second line of defense athletic enough to stop the run and pass.

"We're not very big, but we're quick and we're fast and we fly to the football,'' Cobb said. "The main thing is we play as a team. There are no stars.''

Or there are just enough minor stars to form a nice constellation. Cornerback Khiry Watts leads a strong defensive backfield featuring juniors Desmond Wilson, P.J. Thomas and Alex Holloman. They have combined for 10 interceptions on the season to make up for the loss of last year's leader Skelton.

"In the past we've had big names like Bruce Taylor and DeMazio Skelton, but we don't have that one guy on defense this year. We have a bunch of guys that play as one unit,'' Wilson said. "I guess you can call them the no-name defense, but there are a lot of good guys who play well together.''

Intangibles

One could make the argument that the team's MVP is Jordan Butler, even if he's not a part of the "Greatest Show on Turf'' or the "No-Name Defense.'' The senior placekicker/punter is the team's second-leading scorer (82 for 84 PATs and 5 for 9 field goals for 97 points), he averages 42.3 yards per punt (almost 10 yards longer than the Seahawks' opponents) and nearly half the he time kicks off into the end zone, creating valuable field position. Butler's leg will need to do the latter tonight in light of the Seahawks' recent woes in kick coverage. Although Myrtle Beach possesses weapons in the return game (Watts, Ford and Sumpter average better than 20 yards per kickoff and punt returns), it has allowed several big kick returns late in the year.

The only other weakness the Seahawks have shown during their playoff run is penalities. They were flagged more than 10 times for over 100 yards in their postseason victories over Midland Valley and North Charleston before cutting back to a managable five penalties for 44 yards last week.

But those are good weaknesses to have when your strengths are a prolific but balanced offense, a selfless and hard-working defense and a team unity that comes from being tested by adversity. And those are the same kinds of special teams for which the rare title of "repeat champion'' is reserved.

"This one is special because we had to overcome a lot to get back there,'' said Golson. "We had a lot of stuff going on and we overcame it.''

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