The shortened 2020 football playoffs opened the door for non-playoff qualifiers to recoup some gate money and extend their seasons in the form of a one-game addition to the end of the regular season.
For lack of a better term, they were initially referred to as bowl games.
Many have moved on from that tag, but if any season is deserving of some positive flair, it’s 2020.
Look, these games basically don’t mean anything to those outside each school’s inner circle — much the case with many of the college bowl games that take place each winter. Still, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be enjoyed and appreciated for what they are.
One final chance to compete this fall.
As such, let’s have some fun with them.
Each game has been assigned its own bowl-style moniker, sans corporate sponsorship silliness, of course. Envision swag bags jammed with nifty take-home gear and merchandise racks with flashy logos. No, there won’t be any of that. But there’s no reason we can’t cradle the idea like we love it. Besides, who knows if we’ll ever get this opportunity again?
Let’s have at it.
SOUNDS GOOD BOWL
TEAMS | Conway at Ashley Ridge
DATE | Nov. 12
ABOUT THE GAME | The two teams have never played. And outside of a slight CNB Kickoff Classic connection between Ashley Ridge coach Shane Fidler (previously at Waccamaw) and Conway’s Carlton Terry, these two teams might as well have been picked out of a Bingo roller to play this game. That anonymity probably wasn’t the worst thing for two teams simply hoping to get in a game without too many eyeballs judging every step.
Frankly, Conway and Ashley Ridge have mostly been an afterthought at the state’s highest level over the last decade. The Swamp Foxes began varsity play in 2008 and moved up to Class 4A two years later. Since that point, both Ashley Ridge and Conway have each made the playoffs eight times and mostly suffered quick exits. Both teams have three postseason victories in that window, and neither have threatened the big dogs of the classification even when they could string together a win or two.
Those are the breaks for Class 5A teams who aren’t loaded at most positions. For either of these teams to turn the corner in the next two-three years, it could be all about player development at the lower levels. So while we can expect to see plenty of juniors and seniors getting their share of the snaps in this game, keep an eye on those younger names who may be ready to step into any of the ensuing graduation absences that are about to be created.
HELLO NEIGHBOR BOWL
TEAMS | Waccamaw at St. James
DATE | Nov. 13
ABOUT THE GAME | Waccamaw wasn’t the reason, necessarily, but when looking at how St. James has scheduled football games throughout its near-20-year existence, it’s hard not to draw connections. For each season of the Sharks’ first decade, St. James played at least half of its non-region games against out-of-county opponents. Between 2006-2009, there was only one Horry County program on the Sharks’ docket. The reasoning was simple.
The county’s youngest program didn’t have those built in rivalries (outside of Socastee — which was often in the same region) and other area schools didn’t deem it necessary to play a struggling and young squad. However, separated by just 15 miles — and that pesky county line — Waccamaw often filled the gap. The two teams have played eight times since 2006. They’ve split those match-ups, and six were decided by a single score.
We sort of expected these games between the two to cease once St. James moved up to the state’s largest class and put a full division between them. However, for a pair of programs looking to build on any modicum of positivity after a rough year, no one seemed to mind. This one probably doesn’t have close game written all over it, as St. James’ Class 5A status can’t be ignored against a struggling Class 3A team. It could be just the type of season finale the Sharks need before heading into a more traditional offseason.
COME OUT TO THE COAST, WE’LL GET TOGETHER, HAVE A FEW LAUGHS BOWL
TEAMS | Loris at Socastee
DATE | Nov. 13
ABOUT THE GAME | Horry County Schools approved these two schools’ new head coaches at the same board meeting back in February. Greg Mance and Ben Hampton were each asked to turn around struggling programs. On top of that, they found a huge roadblock awaiting them. Schools closed, spring ball was eliminated and most of the summer workouts were wiped off the books in advance of a fall schedule that was anything but consistent.
Despite all that, Mance and Hampton pushed their new teams to third-place finishes in their respective regions. If that point alone isn’t worthy of your praise, consider that in a normal year, the Lions and Braves would both be playoff bound.
The uptick at Socastee has been evident in a rejuvenated defense that — outside of one blowout loss to a Carolina Forest squad that was firing on all cylinders — was keeping opposing offenses in check. The Braves held their other three Region VI-5A foes to an average of 15 points per game, roughly 26 points under last season’s average against region opponents.
Up at Loris, it’s safe to say the Lions have finally gained some confidence after a horrendous 2019 season that felt like one gut shot after another. It was then that Loris lost four of its five region contests and six games overall by a touchdown or less.
So when they found themselves in close games against Waccamaw and Georgetown to kick off this season, it was a refreshing sight for Loris fans to see their team come out on top. They beat the Warriors 12-7 and the Bulldogs 19-13 in a pair of wins that guaranteed they’d end up in the middle of the region this year after last year’s basement finish.