After an offseason that included a coaching change and a lot of turnover in players and staff, it was therapeutic to get back to playing football.
The Marlboro County High team took the field Friday and, after an early hiccup, cruised past Ridgeland - Hardeeville, 40-14. Now, the routine of the regular season can begin.
"It has been a little hectic for all of us," said head coach Bobby Collins, who took over the program in April after the resignation of Dean Boyd.
"Now that we are playing and the season's underway, if feels much more comfortable, more like home," said Collins.
In getting a win in his first game, Collins achieved something neither of his two predecessors accomplished. It took Boyd seven games to get his first victory as the MCHS coach. Reed Charpia got a win in the fifth game of the inaugural season.
"I'm sure it is a completely different circumstance. We're just glad to get off on the right foot," said Collins.
Late last week, the Bulldog coaching staff decided to start junior Darius Grant under center. Grant rewarded them by throwing two touchdown passes and running for another.
"It was a very close competition. We have a lot of confidence in Hakeem (Stanback) as well, and he will definitely get to play each week," said Collins.
Charpia to HOF
Coach Charpia was announced on Tuesday as a member of the South Carolina Coaches Association Hall of Fame Class of 2019.
Charpia coached the final Bennettsville High School team in 1987, then led the consolidated Marlboro County High for its first nine years.
His Bulldog teams reached the Class AAAA Division I semi-finals three times, in 1990, '91 and '94. He left Marlboro County after the 1996 season.
He also coached at James Island, Irmo, Newberry College, Midland Valley and Woodland, winning 240 games. He won a state championship at James Island.
Also named to the Hall of Fame were J.R. Boyd, the older brother of MCHS's former coach, and Burney Bourne of Cheraw, Socastee and Waccamaw.
Scouting the Braves
It has been an interesting week in Cheraw. Last Thursday, word leaked out that something had caused the school administration to relinquish head coaching duties from Andy Poole. That was confirmed Friday morning, with David Byrd, the school's athletic director, serving as interim coach.
The Braves shook off the surprise and trounced Darlington, 28-0.
This week, following an investigation, it was announced that Poole and one assistant, would be serving a three-game suspension. The only reason given was "misconduct."
Byrd, who is also the Cheraw head baseball coach, is a former Marlboro County High player.
"They did a good job in a difficult situation. The kids were resilient and I'm sure they will come over here Friday with a solid game-plan," said Collins.
Coming off a 2-8 season, the Braves are loaded at the skill positions in looking to make amends for 2018.
The Braves use both a power running game from the wishbone formation and a spread passing attack.
Junior quarterback Tyson Hall was extremely effective against the Falcons last Friday, hitting 8 of 10 passes for 174 yards and two TDs.
All-star candidate Jalen Coit and Chesterfield transfer Ricky Lockhart are the top receiving threats.
Joshua Ellerbe rushed for 116 yards and a TD against Darlington.
Defensive lineman Xavier McIver is committed to East Carolina and is a beast in the middle. The leading tackler is linebacker McKenny Goodale.
"They are going to be a challenge. I understand that this is a rivalry game, so that will make it that much more intense," said Collins.
Keys to the game
Going into the season, the word was that Cheraw didn't have much depth in the trenches, with many starters playing on both offense and defense.
There will be games this year where the depth issue will not be in Marlboro's favor. They will need to take advantage of the edge Friday. The Bulldogs offense will look to stay on the field, pounding the Braves with their talented running backs.
The re-tooled defense will get a much bigger challenge this week, trying to contain Cheraw's big play weapons.
Tee it up
The Bulldogs and Braves will kick off at 7:30 at McAlpine Stadium.