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N. Myrtle Beach High School
Little River

North Myrtle Beach putting it all together in 2017

By C.R. Cumbee

Staff Writer

Little River—For years, North Myrtle Beach was a fledgling program struggling to find success on the football field. The Chiefs had only won a share of a region championship one time prior to last season, but all of those negatives have quickly been forgotten with an unprecedented run of success.

Blair Hardin took over prior to the 2014 season, where the team picked up four victories. The win count increased to five the following year before North Myrtle Beach went 11-2 last Fall, finishing in a three-way tie with Myrtle Beach and Marlboro County for the conference crown.

Hardin left for River Bluff after the season and the Chiefs stayed in-house with their next hire, promoting assistant Matt Reel. Reel, a first-time head coach, kept most of the schemes the same, but made small tweaks to put his mark on the program.

“Our base offense is still shotgun triple-option. I like to throw the ball a little more and we’ve been in more spread sets this year. With the guys we have, that’s benefitted us. We’ve got good skill guys that we can spread the field with and make teams have to cover the whole field. Defensively, we’re still a four-man front but we’ve changed some things in the secondary,” Reel said.

With Reel in charge, the Chiefs ran the table, putting together the school’s first 10-0 regular season. They held off Myrtle Beach and Wilson and easily defeated Marlboro County and St. James to add more accolades to the record books – their first outright region championship and a No. 2 ranking in the latest HSSR 4A poll.

“Being here for four years, we’ve only heard about some of the struggles they’ve had here before. Coach Perry Woolbright did a good job setting the ground work and expectations. We tried to come in and piggy back off of that. We worked the kids as hard as could,” said Reel.

North Myrtle Beach stayed in the moment each week and never got caught looking too far ahead. They played a difficult non-conference schedule as well, defeating a ranked Class AAA Timberland team on the road in the season opener as well as knocking off Carvers Bay and Socastee along the way.

“These seniors are the first group that has been here all four years. We started with them as freshmen and have seen them progress every year through the program. We knew it was a special group, and looking at our schedule, I thought we had the potential to win every game. We’ve been able to stay healthy and everyone has bought in. They’ve done a good job of not looking ahead,” Reel said.

While a perfect regular season is something to be proud of, none of it will matter if the Chiefs don’t excel in the postseason. They advanced to the third round of the Class AAAA playoffs a year ago and begin their quest for a state title Nov. 3 against Colleton County.

A victory would most likely set up a rematch with Chapin in the second round. The Eagles eliminated North Myrtle Beach, 38-7, last year. If the higher seeds continued to advance, the Chiefs would then have to defeat No. 8 Berkeley and No. 3 Hartsville in order to play for a state championship.

However, Reel’s squad has improved every week and is starting to peak at the right time.

“We won that first game 14-6 and we were probably picked to win by more than that. I told the guys that there was a lot we had to get better at. Every week it felt like something else got a little bit better, a little bit better, a little bit better,” said Reel. “The guys prepare for the task at hand, and obviously you want to play your best football in the playoffs. You know, 10-0 is a great accomplishment, but I don’t think any of us are going to be happy if we’re 10-1 after Friday. We’ve checked off a lot of goals so far, but there are still more we’d like to get to this year.”

Leading the way for North Myrtle Beach is season has been Georgia State commit Tyler Gore, who was selected to the Shrine Bowl and recently earned 4A Lower State Back of the Year honors by the South Carolina Football Coaches Association.

The senior has 30 receptions for 322 yards with six touchdowns while recording 33.5 tackles, seven pass breakups and four interceptions on defense.

“He can do it all. We try to use him in as many ways as we can. We’ll motion him into the backfield, put him at receiver. He’s our kickoff return guy, punt return guy and starts in the secondary on defense. He’s a really good athlete, but an even better human being. He just wants to do everything he can to help the team. He’s got a 4.0-plus GPA and you couldn’t ask for a better kid than Tyler Gore,” said Reel.

Running back Kered Class is another dynamic playmaker for the Chiefs. The North-South all-star has 1,090 yards rushing with 12 touchdowns on 130 carries this year.

The three-year starter has over 3,000 yards in his career, an amazing feat considering he was injured for the majority of 2016. The coaching staff has limited his touches this season in an effort to keep him healthy down the stretch.

“He’s a guy that can go score at any time. He does a great job setting up his blocks, he’s got good speed, and he’s probably one of the best competitors I’ve ever been around. He’s a great teammate and the guys will give everything for him. If we let him get 20 or 25 carries a game, there’s no telling what his numbers would be,” Reel said.

T.J. Gore and Nick Vereen have also gotten repetitions in the backfield. Gore has 56 rushes for 419 yards with four scores, and Vereen has 55 attempts for 285 yards and two TDs.

“We try to make sure everybody gets the football to stay as balanced as we can,” Reel said.

First-year starting quarterback Cason McClendon is a better passer than the coaches have had in the past, completing 92-of-167 throws for 1,375 yards and 18 touchdowns.

His top target is Tyron Stockdale, who is averaging more than 20 yards per catch. The junior has 30 receptions for 696 yards and seven scores. Naseem Harrison is another option on the perimeter after hauling in 17 passes for 222 yards and five TDs.

The left side of the offensive line is made up of three seniors in left tackle Boyce Smith, left guard Hayden O’Kelley and center Dalton Williams. Juniors Michael Bennett and Paul Gerald are at right guard and right tackle, respectively.

One of the biggest keys to the team’s success this year has been the offense’s fast starts. North Myrtle Beach is outscoring opponents, 235-62, in the first half while averaging over 38 points per game. They also consistently convert drives into points when reaching enemy territory.

“The first two weeks I was on our guys non-stop about trying to start faster than what we were,” Reel said. “I think we’ve done a good job of taking care of the football and forcing turnovers. If you look at our red zone statistics, we have a very high percentage of scoring the football. That’s been really big for us. We’ve executed early in games and gotten teams in situations they don’t want to be in. If we’re playing a predominantly heavy-run team, let’s get them in passing situations. If we’re facing a team that’s pass-heavy, let’s get some early turnovers and get their quarterback shook.”

Defensively, there aren’t any superstars. Every player has done his job and played for the man beside him. The unselfish unit is giving up a paltry 15.5 points a night and cares about one thing only – winning.

“We’ve got guys that love each other and want to compete for each other. That group has a lot of guys that have been around for three or four years, and this is what they’ve been working towards. They’ve gotten all the distractions out and honed into the opportunity that we have,” Reel said.

The most notable name on that side of the ball is Kwame Livingston. The North-South defensive end stands at 6’2, 250 pounds, and recently picked up his first offer from North Greenville. He leads the Chiefs with 60.5 tackles, 22.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks.

“He is by far the best physical looking kid we’ve got. Everybody looks to him to make plays and he’s one of our leaders on defense,” Reel said.

Three linebackers are right behind on the tackle chart, with Stephon Wilson (59.5 stops, 6 TFL, 7 fumble recoveries), Dominic Vereen (40 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 4 FR, INT) and Rahsaan Vereen (39 hits, 6 TFL, 4 forced fumbles) all having an impact.

Dominic Vereen is the most interesting of the trio. The senior suffered a torn ACL in his knee in week five, and after consulting with a physician, has continued to play through the injury. Reel believes Vereen may be playing at a higher level now than before it occurred.

“He’s doing a lot of physical therapy with our trainers here at school every day. He’s hurting a little bit, but he’s a tough kid and wants to play. He’s just an absolute warrior,” Reel said.

Joining Livingston on the defensive front is end Marcelous Livingston (34.5 tackles, 14.5 TFL, 8 sacks), tackle Torazz Rice (29 stops, 5.5 TFL, 3 sacks) and nose guard Mikel Stevenson.

Tony Williams is opposite Tyler Gore at the other cornerback position while Harrison and Darrien Holmes are the safeties.

While offense and defense are only two-thirds of the game, the Chiefs have excelled on special teams as well. Freshman punter/placekicker Zane Smith has performed well beyond his years, averaging 39 yards per punt. He is 45-for-46 on extra point attempts while knocking through 8-of-10 field goal tries with a long of 43 yards.

“He’s been very consistent for us. We knew he was a good one and had him kicking on the jayvee team as an eighth-grader,” Reel said. “He had a really great summer and has been an unsung hero for us. He doesn’t get a lot of attention or praise from the media. He makes some of my decisions easier because I’m comfortable with him and I know he’s going to put points on the board. There’s no doubt we’ll need him in the playoffs.”

No matter how this amazing ride ends for North Myrtle Beach, 2017 has been one for the record books. The Chiefs just hope that ride doesn’t come to a stop until it reaches Williams-Brice Stadium on Dec. 2.

“I’m really proud of my guys and the coaches for what they’ve done so far,” Reel said.

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