Following two blowout victories, the buzz about the Marlboro County High football team has increased exponentially. Folks who had written the Bulldogs off following a pair of lackluster seasons are lining up to hop back on the bandwagon.
Head coach Dean Boyd warns those fans to pump the brakes just a little.
“This is a good start but we have a lot to clean up and the road will get much tougher from here,” said Boyd. “Honestly, the first team we played wasn't very organized and Cheraw is a really young team that is in a bit of a rebuilding year.”
The coach points to turnovers, dropped passes and numerous long pass plays by opponents that have to be corrected if the Bulldogs are to compete with powerhouse teams that are upcoming.
“Turnovers are killers for even the best teams. We had two against Cheraw and we were lucky that neither came back to haunt us,” said Boyd. “We also left 24 points on the field. Dropped passes and a missed field goal accounted for those points.”
The last time the Bulldogs opened the year 2-0 was 2013. That year, the hot start ended with a loss to Scotland County, the school that is next on the schedule for the 2018 team.
“They have a great program and it has been awhile since we had any success against them,” said Boyd. “After that, we have a Class 5A opponent (South Florence), Dillon, Hartsville, Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle, so every win will be important.”
Dillon is the top ranked team in Class 3A, Hartsville the top in Class 4A, Myrtle Beach fourth and North Myrtle sixth in the latest SC prep media poll.
Rejuvenated running game
Going into the season, with a questionable offensive line and a pair of untested sophomore running backs, no one knew what to expect from the Marlboro County rushing attack. What has emerged has been a pleasant surprise.
In the opening game, the Bulldogs rushed for over 100 yards in one half of action. Against Cheraw, Marlboro rolled to 217 yards with D.J. Hicks accounting for 134.
“The young backs have run well and the offensive line has come a long way. The best thing is that we have gotten a running game without always having to lean on (quarterback) Elijah Blair. He is a great runner, too, but having a competent running game without making him shoulder the load will be a great benefit,” said Boyd.
Scouting the Scots
Scotland County has been among the elite in North Carolina's largest division, Class 4A, for the last decade.
The 2017 team was eight points away from a state title. However, a majority of the contributors on both sides of the football were seniors, including University of Georgia freshman Zamir White. White and quarterback Warren Bell combined to rush for over 4000 yards last year.
As well as being young, this year's team has been hit by the injury bug. Middle linebacker Josh McKenzie was lost to an ACL injury in the preseason. New quarterback Bruce Wall went down in the season opener. Last week, Syheam "Smiley" McQueen suffered a leg injury.
McQueen, who rushed for over 700 yards last year in relief of White, is the primary weapon on the Scots' offense. He was on crutches for the second half of last week's win over Hillside High School.
McQueen, according to a report out of Laurinburg, has an MCL strain and is out for several weeks. If he can't play, the load will be shifted to sophomore Darrius Dockery and senior Joseph McCoy.
Taking over at quarterback are sophomores Tyler Barfield and Mandrell Johnson. Both played in the win over Hillside last week. Barfield was 6 of 11 for 88 yards and a touchdown. Johnson did not throw a pass.
The top receiver is Trey Chavis and Trevon McLean is the top offensive lineman.
On defense, the Scots are a bit smaller than recent SCHS units but extremely fast. Junior defensive end Jason Romero is a standout.
The Scots and Bulldogs have played almost every year since the inception of Marlboro County High. Scotland County has a 15 to 11 advantage in the series including wins in the last four meetings. Last year, the teams did not play due to torrential rains on the day of the game.
Keys to the game
This looks to be a fairly even matchup, thanks in part to the huge number of injuries the Scots have suffered.
If the Bulldogs can win the turnover battle and continue to have success running the football, they have a chance to end the Scots' winning streak in the series.
Tee it up
The game will kick off at 7:30 at Scotland County’s Pate Stadium.