Chester High football coach Maurice Flowers didn't have to come in and do a lot of motivating as the new coach. Chester was coming off a state title run that fell short against Wilson, 14-12, in the finals.
They expected to get back to the championship game this year, and the Cyclones, 11-3, take on Myrtle Beach, 13-1, at 6 p.m. today at Clemson's Memorial Stadium.
"If I came in and said 'We lost 10 players, we can't get back to state,' that is exactly what would have happened," Flowers said prior to the Upper State finals win over Daniel. "We are building a tradition, not resting on one."
Two of the building blocks are quarterback Tony McNeal and running back Julius Pendergrass, both sophomores.
McNeal has thrown for 3,378 yards and 35 touchdowns, completing 57.7 percent of his passes (228-395). His favorite targets are Jeremy Hughes (66 catches for 1,316 yards, 12 TDs) and Fred Lee (62 catches for 826 yards, 14 TDs).
Pendergrass has been used more as the season has progressed. He has 1,091 yards and seven touchdowns and averages 6.6 yards per carry.
Chester lost 33-32 at Union, 35-34 at home against York and 45-22 at Northwestern. Since then, the Cyclones have reeled off a nine-game winning streak.
Myrtle Beach has a talented sophomore in quarterback Everett Golson. His numbers are very similar to McNeal's -- 3,334 yards and 41 TDs.
Golson throws mainly to Jamere Valentin, who caught 91 balls for 1,420 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Myrtle Beach, chosen No.1 in preseason polls, won its first five games, then lost to Lake City, 14-13.
The Seahawks score points in bunches. They got the season started with a 70-0 win over Carolina Forest and have scored 578 points, an average of 41.3 per game.
"Our program is rich in football tradition, and we are fortunate to be in this game," coach Scott Earley said. "We won four state championships under the late Doug Shaw in the mid-80s. We're back and our goal is to bring another one home.
"Golson is a special kid. He's very talented in class, in music, in basketball and on the field. He was a freshman last year and led our basketball team to the state championship. He's well-rounded and takes football for what it is, a game. He wants to win, but he also wants to go out there and have fun.''
Chester might opt to balance its offense and run the ball as much as it passes. The Cyclones have one of the biggest offensive lines in the state. Or, Flowers might choose to throw like they did early in the season.
"It helps that we are in the spread offense that is similar to the one Chester runs," Earley said. "But speed-wise, Chester is the fastest team we've seen. They go into motion a lot, and I don't know if we can stay with them. We'll just have to wait until (tonight) and see.''
Either way, Chester has some unfinished business.
The players who experienced the loss last year adopted a phrase that has stuck with the team all season: "Finish the job."
The city is hoping the team will get it done. Some businesses have messages on their marquees wishing the team luck.
The Cyclones left for Clemson late Friday morning. The school organized a sendoff including the high school band. The student body lined the sidewalks.
Last week, Chester fans showed up in force at Daniel, some 15 miles beyond Clemson. Church buses took some people, according to athletics director Ricky Campbell.
"They surprised us. They came, and it was a big crowd," Campbell said.
Flowers expects the same tonight at Clemson.
"I have been so pleasantly surprised with the amount of support from the community," he said. "The Union game, our first game, I wasn't sure if the crowd would follow. But we had a very strong following.
"At Daniel last week, we knew we would be outnumbered in the stands, but when I glanced at our side, there wasn't an empty seat. I was very, very impressed. They drove three hours to support their team."
|KEYS TO VICTORY|
• What Myrtle Beach has to do to win: Score as many points as it can. The Cyclones have a high-powered offense and operate out of the spread. The Seahawks run an offense very similar to Chester's, so the element of surprise shouldn't be a factor. The biggest task for Myrtle Beach will be the matchups. Chester is faster and yes, it's true. Speed burns.
• What Chester has to do to win: Pressure quarterback Everett Golson like there is no tomorrow. In this case, there isn't because it's do or die tonight. Golson, like Chester quarterback Tony McNeal, is a tremendous passer with good receivers. If the Cyclones can force Golson to run, it could be a big defensive night for Chester. The Cyclones have not been slack when it comes to sacks.
|CLASS AAA STATE CHAMPIONSHIP|
• Who: Myrtle Beach Seahawks (13-1) vs. Chester Cyclones (11-3)
• When: Today, 6 p.m.
• Where: Memorial Stadium, Clemson
• Home team: Chester, decided by a coin flip on Monday
• Tickets: $10 at the gate.
• Parking: Free all around the stadium
• Radio: WRBK-FM (90.3), pregame 5 p.m.
• Directions: Take S.C. 5 to I-85 South. Stay on I-85 through Spartanburg and Greenville, bearing right when the road splits to go to Williamston. Take Exit 19 into Clemson. Follow the road into town and to the campus. Memorial Stadium will be on Williamson Road.
Karl Lyles • 329-4032