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Marlboro County High School
Bennettsville

Marlboro County hoping to change fortunes in playoffs

 

By David Shelton

Senior Writer

Bennettsville – As heavy underdogs going into the 2017 Class AAAA lower state playoffs against a 9-1 Berkeley team, the Marlboro County Bulldogs can play with house money and nothing to lose when they visit the Stags on November 3rd.

Marlboro County, at 3-6, is not expected to beat a top 10 ranked Berkeley team that is predicted to contend for the lower state championship. However, if the Bulldogs take the right attitude into the game, their head coach feels they have a shot at an upset.

“We’re not favored but you never know in these types of situations,” head coach Dean Boyd said. “We’re taking the approach that everyone is 0-0 right now. I told our players this is an opportunity. It’s a challenge, for sure, but it’s a big opportunity to knock off one of the best teams in the state. If we play with passion and play well, we have a chance. That’s my message to them.”

Marlboro County had a bye week at the end of the regular season and members of the coaching staff had the opportunity to go watch Berkeley play Cane Bay in week 10. The Stags won that game, 30-27, in overtime and Boyd came away impressed.

“They’re a sound, solid, well-coached football team with some really good athletes,” Boyd said. “They have good balance offensively and their defense is solid. They are 9-1 for a reason. We sort of started preparing for the possibility that we would play them and they ended up winning. We had a few extra days so maybe we have a plan to go there and compete.”

As Boyd says, Berkeley does have a balanced attack offensively. Quarterback Eric Tuttle has thrown for more than 1,800 yards while running back Keyshawn Wicks has topped 1,500 yards rushing. The Stags have several receivers with big play potential, led by junior prospect DJ Chisolm, who has more than 1,500 all-purpose yards and is a threat as a return man.

Berkeley’s defensive leaders include tackle Blake Jenkins-Williams, who was selected to play in the North-South all-star game. End Xavier Watson, linebacker Jake Dunn, and defensive back Tre Morrison also play well for the Stags defensively.

Boyd thinks his team will give a great effort in the playoffs but says a tough regular season has taken its toll on the mental psyche of his team. The Bulldogs fought tooth and nail against two powerhouses, Hartsville and Dillon, only to lose close games in the fourth quarter. Down the stretch, in region 7-AAAA play, the Bulldogs took some lumps.

“Those two losses to Dillon and Hartsville took a lot out of this team,” Boyd said. “You know we always play a tough non-region schedule and typically I think it has helped us. This year, I’m not so sure it helped us much because of the close losses. Just a mistake here and there, a turnover or a bad play defensively. We could have won both of those games. Our confidence is shot a little. I think we have great kids and they work hard but confidence is a lot of our problem here at the end of the season.”

Perhaps the greatest effect on the team with the close losses has come on defense, says Boyd.

“We haven’t played well since those losses,” he said. “We haven’t stopped anyone. I think we’re a lot better than we’ve played. We just haven’t played to our potential.”

One of the team’s better defensive players has been senior linebacker Joey McCray, selected to play in the North-South all-star game, along with offensive tackle Noah Henderson. McCray enters the playoffs with 115 total tackles.

The team’s leading tackler is linebacker Ty Bridges, who has 146 total hits and leads the team in defensive points with 296.

Maliq Easterling has totaled 66 tackle and six tackles for loss while Ja’Qualis Ford has 54 tackles. Jaquez McRae has 47 tackles, including six for loss, and Demarius Davis has 41 total tackles.

Offensively, most of the offense comes from junior quarterback Elijah Blair, who leads the team in rushing with nearly 600 yards while passing for more than 1,500 yards. Blair and junior receiver Iyon Williams have been a solid combination offensively all season.

Boyd says Blair is continuing to mature as a quarterback and should be a major threat as a senior.

“Eli has had a good season overall,” the coach said. “He’s made some mistakes but he’s learning and growing. We know the things we need to work on in the offseason but he’s a great worker. He’s a really strong kid (500 squat, 350 bench) and he’s the top student in his class so he’s a learner. He’s going to have an opportunity to play somewhere after high school.”

 

 

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