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Warrior nights: David or Goliath? Question hangs over opening game

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

On the bus ride home from a 47-13 loss at Andrews Friday night, a Waccamaw High football player asks coach Tyronne Davis why the home team’s fans had chanted “rich boy, rich boy” at him.

His family isn’t rich. Why would they say that?

Davis gives him no answer.

Waccamaw went to a ball game last Friday, and a culture war broke out. The Andrews players had chips on their shoulders they’d been carrying since first grade when they began hearing Waccamaw’s schools are better. For Andrews, this game would be country vs. country club.

“We get everybody’s best shot,” Davis says after the game. He had tried to prepare his players, warning about Andrews’ physicality and having to match it in the trenches. He couldn’t prepare them for a team looking at something bigger than a ball game.

Friday’s optics play into the Andrews scenario. Waccamaw’s pre-game meal is at the Porch at Prime in the Hammock Shops. Couples going to the Andrews prom would like to eat there. Tracy Knox, a Waccamaw assistant coach, works at the restaurant, and the owners offered the meal of hamburgers and fries as an opening-night treat for the team. Seniors sit together at the big round table in back, while others fill the tables on the deck. Michael Mayeaux, youth pastor at All Saints Church, delivers a pre-game talk about David and Goliath. “Man looks at the outward appearance,” he says. “God looks at the heart.” Four customers at the bar sit uncomfortably through the brief sermon, focusing on the soccer games and news on the TV sets. Mayeaux tells members of the team to play for “something bigger than themselves.”

The Waccamaw boys are led to view themselves as David in the Bible story. Nobody has a thought that Andrews feels the same way.

There’s a sign above the door in the Waccamaw locker room that says: “Play with courage. Play with pride. Play for each other. Play like a Warrior.” The accompanying school coat of arms features a soccer ball, but the room smells like football: body odor. Liam Sullivan, a junior guard, is meditating. James Alston, sophomore wide receiver, listens to music on his phone and paces the sidewalk.

Assistant coaches had reviewed the plays they plan to run: Razor and Lazer. Offensive coordinator Shannon McAlister warns that the Andrews safeties will roll hard to the line of scrimmage when they see Waccamaw run Laser Jet Left. Linemen are advised to use cut blocks on Right Laser Slant because of the quick throw.

Defensive coordinator Gordon Walters is a former head coach at White Knoll. He reviews the call for a Box alignment. Senior linebacker Jack King, a reliable tackler, will move to the side where Andrews usually runs. “They are going to run that dive all night long if we don’t stop it,” Walters warns. “They’re going to challenge you right there.”

Davis tells his players that special teams play will make or break them. “If we score on special teams, it gives us one up on them. That’s big,” he says. “I need you paying attention. I don’t want to see you on the sidelines sitting on the bench. I don’t care who’s sitting in the stands. You can talk to them after the game. Focus on the football game. If you are hurt let somebody know. We need to replace you. If you’ve got equipment issues, let somebody know.”

Coaches load 5-gallon containers of water and Gatorade into their trucks along with a portable water fountain. The boys are exhorted to hydrate to prevent cramps. Davis signals it’s time to go. He takes his seat in the back of the bus.

Assistant coach Rudolph Brown guides the bus smoothly down Highway 17 toward Georgetown. The chit-chat between players dwindles into quiet contemplation. Am I David or Goliath? Players rest their foreheads on the seat in front of them. This is not a rah-rah bunch on the bus. It could just as easily be the Quiz Bowl team. Nice boys. Smart boys. The kind girls want to take home to their mamas. Will somebody step up and be a leader for this team? Is there a spark on this bus capable of igniting a flame-thrower?

They aren’t going to Andrews to toss a ball in a basket or try and hit one with a stick. They are going to hit the other team head-on. Most of them won’t touch the football. Their jobs are to smash their helmets and shoulder pads into the other team and see who falls backwards.

“Wake up. Get ready to roll,” Davis tells his team. “Headphones off. Five minutes to be on the field.” Urgency is building in his voice. Sheriff’s deputies are on the scene for crowd control. Girls from Andrews hang on the chain link fence around the field to get a look at the Waccamaw boys as they pass. The scoreboard at Webber Rowell Stadium is counting down: 55:00 until kickoff.

While his team stretches on the field, Davis jokes with the referees. The WHS cheerleaders arrive in their own bus. One says she’s worried about the Zika virus. “That’s if you’re pregnant,” another cheerleader says. “You’re not.” The football team comes together to run the plays planned for its first offensive series. Linemen assemble to block Andrews’ view.

“Play to the whistle,” Davis tells his team. “Use of profanity will get you ejected.” He reminds them of a new rule to keep all pads covered by their uniforms or they have to leave the field for one play. “Let’s get ready to play,” he says. “First game of the season, baby. Under the lights. We’re going to make mistakes, but, hey, get over it. Let’s play some football tonight. Let’s have fun.”

Andrews wins the coin toss and elects to receive. “That means we go ‘D’ first,” Davis says. “That’s what we wanted. Let’s throw the wood at ’em. All together. Let’s have a good game tonight. We worked this offseason. This is for you.” The boys mumble the Lord’s Prayer in unison and end it with, “Let’s go.”

Andrews looks shaky on its first possessions. Penalties kill drives and a fumble leads to a big loss of yardage. One of their defensive linemen has to leave the field for the equipment infraction Davis warned his team about.

Andrews strikes first with a long touchdown run, but Waccamaw answers with a 60-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Brandon Stecz to wide receiver Dominic Gullo. The play lifts spirits on the Waccamaw sideline. Sullivan limps off the field, and trainer Christine Keillor tapes over his shoe to keep his ankle from twisting. Jordan Marshall comes to the sideline with pain in his hip. He gets an ice bag to put in his pants.

The Warrior defense makes a stop at midfield, and the ball goes over at the end of the first quarter. They are in this game. The offensive line is opening holes, even if they close quickly. Waccamaw has two big running backs: Ladarius Taylor and Antrix Green. “Sup- Super, Warriors are,” the cheerleaders chant to the visitor stands.

As the coach warned, a special teams’ play turns the game around. But it’s for Andrews. A blocked punt leads to a Yellow Jackets score. Then a fumble leads to another. And an interception to another. By halftime, it’s 33-6 in favor of Andrews.

Coaches huddle in the end zone. The power running series isn’t working. Dylan Paynter, a senior with his arm in a sling, yells, “What ya’ll goin’ to do?” His words fall flat. Davis tells his boys to keep fighting. “Don’t give up,” he says. “Please, don’t give up. Good things will happen. Stay low. Fire off the ball the first few series. I think we can do some things, but you guys have to come off the ball.”

Line coach Jim Lane tells the Waccamaw boys that Andrews is having a grand old time at their expense. He expects the Yellow Jackets to begin taking chances on defense. “They’re having fun,” he says. “Keep working. Take a little pride and not let the man in front of you beat you.”

The Warriors will begin the second half on offense. “Get something positive, and we’re back in it,” Davis says. “Keep your heads up. Keep playing.”

The coach proves prophetic. Green takes a handoff and races 70 yards for a touchdown less than four minutes into the second half. It won’t be enough to win the game, but it’s a glimmer of hope. Green makes his way to the bench before his loses his hamburger and fries on the grass. He gets right back in the game.

The Warriors fight to the end. Andrews is just a bigger, deeper, faster, more experienced team. It’s hard to see how Waccamaw would beat the Jackets if they played 10 times.

“If you think that was bad,” said a veteran cheerleader to a new one as they leave the stadium, “wait ’til we go to Dillon.”

The players don’t seem disheartened on the ride back to Waccamaw. The bus isn’t deadly silent with sulking boys. Assistant coaches check scores and are happy to hear that upcoming foes St. James, Georgetown, Carvers Bay and even Dillon have lost. Davis wants to put the Andrews game behind them and get ready for St. James. His first job is to get the team’s white uniforms into the washing machine. He wants this game to leave no stains.

The Warriors will get some role reversal this week. St. James is the bigger, more cosmopolitan school from southern Horry County. Waccamaw can be David this time and slay Goliath.

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