High School Football

The keys to Friday’s region championship showdown between Conway and Carolina Forest

Carolina Forest senior quarterback Mason Garcia drops back to pass during football practice at Carolina Forest High School Friday afternoon.
Carolina Forest senior quarterback Mason Garcia drops back to pass during football practice at Carolina Forest High School Friday afternoon. jbell@thesunnews.com

It’s an adage as old as football itself: “Offense fills seats, defense wins championships.”

Carolina Forest and Conway will put that to the test as they battle for the Region 6-5A title at The Backyard.

Carolina Forest (7-1, 4-0 Region) has been a machine on offense this season, scoring nearly 49 points per game and increasing its output in region play by scoring more than 58 points per game. The Mason Garcia-led unit will go up against Tonka Hemingway and a strong Conway (3-5, 3-1 Region) defense that has shouldered the load this season.

Conway struggled early this season as its offense found its footing, playing the likes of Class 4A powerhouses Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach, and Hartsville. As the offense caught up, in region play, the Tigers found success on the scoreboard and in the win column.

Now, the two units will battle for region supremacy and prime seeding in the Class 5A playoffs.

Both Carolina Forest and Conway played St. James in region play, with the Panthers defeating the Sharks 59-7 and Conway falling 10-7 a week ago. St. James’ coach Tommy Norwood offered his breakdown of the contest, saying it will be a game decided in the trenches.

“You probably can’t prepare for the defensive front over there at Conway,” Norwood said. “It’s more than just Tonka on that unit, they have a bunch of really good players on that whole defense. But, Carolina Forest is an experienced bunch of players and really can put up points in a hurry. They were able to do that to us, where it was a lot to a little before much time came off the scoreboard.”

Another common opponent this season was Myrtle Beach. The defending Class 4A state champions dealt Carolina Forest its only loss of the season by a 43-28 score and whacked Conway 41-9 to retain the Victory Bell. Mickey Wilson called the Panthers’ offensive line one of the keys to the game.

“Their front five is one of the best units in the state of South Carolina,” he said. “They’re all seniors and have played a lot of football together. Then you put a player like Mason Garcia behind them with the other skill players they have and you see why they have been able to put a lot of points on the scoreboard.”

While the Panthers’ offense and the Tigers’ defense get a lot of the headlines, both Norwood and Wilson gave props to the flip side of each team.

“Carolina Forest’s defense might be one of the most underrated units I’ve seen,” Norwood said. “They do a great job of containing their opponents and play soundly. They haven’t given up much, which is saying a lot with how often their offense scores and they are back on the field.”

The Panthers’ defense has given up just seven points per game in region play, creating a point differential of more than 51 points against their peers. Throughout the season, Carolina Forest gave up only 12 points per game, with 44 percent of its defensive points surrendered coming against Myrtle Beach.

“Conway has found an identity on offense here the last couple of weeks,” Wilson said. “They’ve brought (Carlton Terry II) along and let him grow into the quarterback position. It helps to have playmakers like Xavier Kinlaw outside who can take any touch to the house.”

While both coaches anticipate a hard-fought contest, Norwood believes the game will be settled by what often determines high school football games.

“More high school football games are lost than won,” he said. “Whoever wins the turnover battle and makes the fewest mistakes will win the ballgame nine times out of 10. It will be hard to keep Mason down, but Conway’s team can’t be overlooked with how they can play.”

Regardless of the result, both teams will make the Class 5A playoffs and will have a home playoff game. For Carolina Forest, it will continue a dream season that has exceeded even the high expectations that followed the team from preseason, while Conway would show another never-say-die effort with a region championship after starting the season 0-4.

Week 10 Schedule

Aynor at Lake City

Carolina Forest at Conway

Loris at Marion

Myrtle Beach at North Myrtle Beach (7:05 p.m.)

St. James at Socastee

Hanahan at Waccamaw

Bye: Green Sea Floyds

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