There’s a first time for everything – and for North Myrtle Beach and Cason McClendon, Thursday night provided many firsts as the Chiefs went into The Backyard and defeated Conway 16-14 in a thrilling opening game of the high school football season.
North Myrtle Beach (1-0) had never defeated Conway (0-1) in its football history, and looked like it would not exorcise the demon this season, after scoring only three points in the first three quarters of the game. Come crunch time, the Chiefs offense finally came alive and put up two touchdowns in the final 4:15 to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
“The X’s and O’s part wasn’t great tonight and we’ve got some things to clean up, but our team played extremely hard,” said North Myrtle Beach Head Coach Matt Reel. “That was a good football team we were playing against, they are no slouch. Coach (Carlton) Terry does a tremendous job and his team plays hard for him. For us to be able to come here, against a perennial powerhouse, and be in the situation we were in and still get the win speaks volumes about the character of our kids and what we’ve got. ”
In the first game for both teams, coming off double-digit win seasons a year ago, things started slowly. Conway’s defense looked like a strong unit all pre-season, including a stout performance in the CNB Kickoff Classic last week, and came into the game hungry to make an impact.
“… We played sound defense for three-and-a-half quarters,” Terry said. “When you lose, it’s the coaches’ fault. We have to do a better job of preparing them for four quarters. . (North Myrtle Beach) executed better in the end and we didn’t seem to stay the course and do what we’re coached to do.”
In the first quarter, North Myrtle Beach’s offense sputtered, only managing three points. McClendon started the game 0-for-11, completing his first pass in the fourth quarter. While the Conway defense put incredible pressure on North Myrtle Beach, the Tiger offense went to work. Daquinton Grady, Conway’s new starting quarterback, ran a balanced offense – hitting on big passing plays and drawing North Myrtle Beach offside multiple times to keep drives alive. The Tigers put two touchdowns on the board in the second quarter, earning a 14-3 lead that would last well into the fourth quarter.
As time continued to tick off the clock in the fourth quarter, North Myrtle Beach’s Naseem Harrison and McClendon took matters into their own hands to pull out a gritty win.
“We just kept fighting; our defense got stop after stop and kept us in the ball game. We knew that our offense had to do our part and put up some points,” McClendon said. “We really dug in and started making some plays. I don’t think anything stalled us; it just took us a little while to get going.”
McClendon’s first touchdown pass to begin his first fourth quarter comeback came with 4:15 on the clock on a 29-yard strike to Zyer Belle, drawing the Chiefs closer at 14-9, following a missed extra point. The next score from the Chiefs came on the back of a new playmaker in Harrison.
“Naseem is great; he’s a security blanket for me. I don’t have to throw a perfect ball, it can be behind him and he will pull it in,” McClendon said. “Tonight, he did a great job getting yards after the catch – it’s easy to throw a ball five yards and watch him run for another 15 or 20. This is the first time I’ve ever had to come back in the fourth quarter. I was a little bit nervous, if I’m being honest, but I had faith in my guys that we would be able to pull it off.”
While the game was in question for the crowd, coaching staff, and other players, Harrison never had a doubt that North Myrtle Beach would leave victorious and that he would be the one to make it happen.
“I knew the ball was coming to me, I just had to step up and make a play for my team,” Harrison said. “I know I’ve got to be ready at all times – I thought I was going to break a touchdown on the punt return (on the game winning drive), but I got caught. I was just feeling something special in the fourth quarter.”
It’s not the formula Reel drew up for his team, but he’s able to chalk it up to a learning experience and a hard-fought win.
“I told our guys before this game that we don’t want to play our best game in Week Zero. We want to keep getting better each week and win every game, but our region is a gauntlet,” Reel said. “We have some really tough games ahead of us and this one tonight offered a glimpse of what it’s going to take to get the wins we want. It took everything we had and almost every second on the clock to pull this one out.”
Next week, North Myrtle Beach will host Loris, while Conway will play at Nation Ford.
NMB – Zane Smith 25-yard field goal 1:31
Con – Daquinton Grady 11-yard pass to Quancey Bennett (Will Smith kick) 4:43
Con – Justin Sherman 5-yard run (Smith kick) 1:58
NMB – Cason McClendon 29-yard pass to Zyer Belle (Smith kick failed) 4:15
NMB – McClendon 12-yard pass to Naseem Harrison (Smith kick) 00:03
Rushing: NMB – Ramsey Lewis 12-71. Con – Sherman 3-27-1TD.
Passing: NMB – McClendon 5-17-83-2-0. Con – Grady – 17-24-153-1-0.
Receiving: NMB – Harrison 3-47-1TD. Con – Xavier Kinlaw – 6-84.