Through five games, the 11 Grand Strand football teams in Classes A-AAA have a good idea of what they are working with in order to make the playoffs or – in the case of the four Class AA teams – improve their postseason season.
But now the real fun begins.
On Friday, those 11 squads start attempting to make the push that counts. Even in Class AA, where every team will make the playoffs, what happens in the next five weeks is what will determine which programs are legitimate contenders to continue playing and which are going to start working toward next season a little earlier.
The most watched division of the state’s lower three classes will be Region VII-AAA, where five area teams and Florence school Wilson start their bid to earning a playoff spot.
And, to some extent, that means paying attention to everyone else.
“You keep your eye on your region opponents,” Myrtle Beach coach Mickey Wilson said. “Socastee’s having a great year. Georgetown’s having a great year. North Myrtle Beach, of course, is having a great year. St. James is [improved]. Wilson brought back like 17 starters from last year. Everybody in our region is playing pretty good football right now. We’ll certainly have to play our A game.”
For Myrtle Beach, that hasn’t been much of a problem. The Seahawks’ last loss in region play came in 2008, and because of it, they’ve earned a top playoff seed every year.
If nothing else, upstarts Socastee (5-0) and North Myrtle Beach (4-1) are drastically better than they were this time last year, and both are looking to make a change in the region’s pecking order.
That won’t be easy, simply because those two teams play this week. One will get a major leg up in finishing in the top two in the region – a necessity to earn a home playoff game – while the other will have four games left to make the most of it.
For North Myrtle Beach, a win Friday would help continue to distance this team from the last two seasons, when it failed to win a single game.
“It would just show what kind of kids we’ve got. That’ll be big,” Chiefs coach Perry Woolbright said. “You want to win the non-region games to start off, but you want to win the region. That kind of shows we can compete with the teams that matter so we can get into the playoffs.”
That would be a big step, and one that Georgetown made a season ago.
The Bulldogs, after going 5-5 in 2010 and missing the playoffs, finished 7-3 during the 2011 regular season. It was enough to get coach Bradley Adams’ team into the postseason with the fourth spot from the region.
However, it also led to a match-up with eventually Lower State champion Bluffton in the opening round. Had Georgetown won its regular-season finale, it would have played at home against Berkeley, the team Socastee defeated at home.
Georgetown (3-2 so far this season), gets to open up at home Friday against St. James, but the Sharks aren’t your typical 1-4 program. All four of St. James’ losses have come by two touchdowns or less, and two of those – a one-point loss to Loris and an eight-point loss last week to Carvers Bay – were one-score games.
Aynor was a prime example last season of how automatic entry into the Class AA postseason can pay dividends.
After the Blue Jackets failed to win a region game, they upset Garrett in the opening round, giving the team its first postseason win in two decades. This season, however, coach Jody Jenerette doesn’t want to take the risk of lucking into match-up with favorable consequences.
Aynor is 4-1, and even though it plays Class AA and Region VIII-AA powerhouse Dillon Friday night, two or three region victories could help fuel an increased interest in football.
“It’s just totally different than anything we’ve ever had here,” Jenerette said. “But this is a totally different group. … I’m kind of feeding off our kids. They’ve got a little swagger to them. They’ve got a little bit of confidence.”
The same can be said at Waccamaw, where a year after winning just two games all season the Warriors (3-2) have already surpassed that figure with half of the regular season to go.
Tailback Jalen Simmons is averaging 120 rushing yards per game, and he had at least 139 yards in each of the team’s three victories. The two losses came against teams that were head and shoulders above where Waccamaw stands right now, and coach Tyronne Davis’ team can start positioning itself for a solid postseason seed starting Friday when it heads to Mullins.
Last season, Loris’ only regular-season loss came against Dillon, and as a result, the Lions received a first-round playoff bye before facing eventual state champion Timberland in the second round. This year, that same record can’t happen – coach Jamie Snider’s team already has two losses.
However, that’s not to say Loris doesn’t have it in it to finish near the top of Region VIII-AA again. Marion and Mullins appears to be down, and, at least of late, the Lions have taken care of business against Waccamaw and Aynor.
For Andrews, Region VII-AA may not be quite the meat grinder it was a year ago. Defending Class AA, Division II champion Bishop England now resides in Region VI, and Manning officially moved up to Class AAA. Both of those teams beat the Yellow Jackets in region play last season, and that may help as Andrews is still working through player losses following last year.
The Yellow Jackets’ four losses so far have come against three Class AAA teams and Carvers Bay.
Following region play, Loris will once again be in the Class AA, Division I playoff bracket while Aynor, Waccamaw and Andrews will be seeded in Division II.
Both Carvers Bay and Green Sea-Floyds are hoping tough non-region schedules will lead to increased results starting this Friday.
Even if the teams have opposite records.
The Bears started 4-1 and have only a season-opening loss to No. 3 Johnsonville against them. They also defeated three teams from higher classes.
“It makes me feel that we can survive it,” Carvers Bay coach Nate Thompson said. “We shouldn’t be getting overwhelmed [by region opponents]. If we don’t play down to anybody, I think our chances are pretty good.”
The Bears, who moved to Region VII-A this season, head to C.E. Murray (1-4), and a solid start to the second half of the season appears likely. But what Carvers Bay will have to find a way to do is manage to continue that success on the road.
A scheduling quirk has Thompson’s bunch playing its first three Region VII-A games away from home.
Over in Region VIII-A, Green Sea-Floyds only played teams from higher classes in non-region games, and it showed in terms of what the Trojans were able to do offensively so far in coach Tony Sullivan’s first year. Green Sea-Floyds has been shut out three times and is averaging fewer than eight points per game.