Green Wave explode for playoff win at Beaufort

GOOSE CREEK — The season may be over for Chad Smith’s Green Wave team, but what a year it was for Easley football.

The program earned a ton of respect in 13 short weeks by continuing to show extreme effort on every snap, whether it be in game one against West-Oak or game 13 against Goose Creek, the No. 1 seeded team in the AAAA Division II playoffs.

Despite a lopsided contest last Friday night, the Wave did manage to go from being considered a sure win to opponents in 2009 to a team no other program wanted to face in 2010.

“Our motto when we started this season was ‘Bring it Back’; we talked a lot through the year about bringing the pride back to Easley and leaving a legacy instead of a memory,” Smith told the Courier. “I was able to tell the seniors Friday night that they brought it back and they left a legacy. I then told the underclassmen that this is just the beginning.”

They say a team reflects the attitude of its head coach, and the Wave did that until the final whistle was blown last Friday night. Smith has displayed a demeanor all season that exudes a quiet confidence. Like his team, Smith has been hard-nosed and protective of his team, but always with a polite demeanor that earns respect from his peers.

The Easley team was just that — never loose-cannon and always focused, whether it was playing a top contender or a team that it could dominate.

“I believe that since our kids now have a taste of winning, they will be even hungrier,” Smith said. “It is a lot easier to ask a kid to show up to workouts when he is 9-4 instead of 1-10.”

Friday night’s game may have ended in a 49-0 defeat, but to the Easley faithful, it was just the final game in an unbelievable season that has set a foundation of excellence at EHS.

The undefeated Goose Creek Gators, led by former Clemson and South Carolina assistant and Baylor University head coach Chuck Reedy, may not even be tested the rest of the way because of their sheer skill at so many positions.

Couple that fact with the Green Wave’s second four-hour-plus road trip in the 2010 playoffs, which really took a toll on Smith’s squad, and Easley had a recipe for disaster.

“It was tough at the time,” Smith said. “However, realistically speaking I believe our kids maxed out their potential. That is not saying anything bad about anyone. We are just not strong enough at this time to withstand playing three quality opponents three weeks in row.

“After another year in our strength program, we should be fine. Our kids fought every team they faced. Friday night, we looked like a MASH unit before we even took the field. I truly believe if we are healthy that is a one- to two-score game. However, our kids now see where it is we want to be and I think they know how hard they need to work to get there.”

Even with the tough game Friday night, the Wave did finish the season 9-4 overall, advancing to the Class II-AAAA, quarterfinals. Easley entered the season having won just once in its previous 30 games, and this year’s nine wins was the most since a 12-2 campaign in 1997.

The Wave can also hang their hat on the fact that they won a road playoff game (at Beaufort last week) for the first time since 1988.

Smith is also only the second coach in Easley history to win at least nine games in his first season. Larry Bagwell was 13-0 in 1967.

The game Friday was not a pretty one for the Wave, especially as the crowd fell silent following the injury of Easley linebacker David Norton, which resulted in a 22-minute delay as the young man was treated on the field. According to Easley officials, Norton was taken to the hospital for evaluation. He was reported late in the game as doing well and is expected to make a full recovery. The injury happened with a minute left in the first half.

The Wave stumbled right out of the gates. On Easley’s first possession, the Wave coughed up the ball on the series’ third play, with the Gators recovering at the Easley 25-yard line.

It only took Goose Creek five plays to record the game’s first points. The Easley defenders hunkered down and slowed the Gator attack until quarterback Jaquan Marsh found receiver Jamel Bowman open and connected for a 16-yard gain on fourth and 9 from the Easley 24. Marsh called his own number after the fourth-down conversion and split the Easley defense, going the final eight yards for the touchdown with 8:56 to play in the first quarter. Gator kicker Masamitsu Ishibashi added the extra point, and the score was 7-0 Gators.

Smith’s offense continued to struggle on the next two Wave possessions and was forced to punt each time.

The Gators added to their lead with an 11-play, 65-yard drive early in the second quarter. Gator runner Virgil Smalles rushed the final yard to cap the drive with 11:45 to play in the half. Ishibashi was true on the PAT, and Goose Creek was out front 14-0.

The Gators’ last touchdown before intermission resulted from a blocked punt with no time on the clock. Setting up at the Easley 22-yard line, Green Wave punter Devin Southerland lined up to boot the ball away, but Goose Creek managed to block the kick, with Gator Gerald Turner picking up the loose ball at the Easley six and rumbling in for the score. Ishibashi added the PAT, and the half ended with Easley trailing 21-0.

The Green Wave looked to run out of gas in the second half with Goose Creek scoring on nearly every possession. The first was a nine-play drive that covered 78 yards. The Gator touchdown came when Smalles carried the ball the final 18 yards for the score. Ishibashi was true with the extra point, and GC was up 28-0 with 7:30 to play in the third quarter.

The Wave seemed to be mounting a drive following the ensuing kickoff, but again a fumble slowed the Wave. Even though Easley runner Trevin Franklin covered the loose ball, the Wave didn’t manage to get a first down, and Southerland was called on to punt.

The Gators took advantage of a couple of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on their next scoring series. The calls were questioned by all that wore Green and White. The play started with the Gators being flagged for two separate personal fouls followed by the Wave being flagged for one in retaliation. However, the penalties were never marked off against Goose Creek, only against Easley. The call infuriated the Easley sideline. Following a slight delay in action, the Wave were again flagged for a personal foul, which cost them 15 more yards. In all, the single play resulted in no penalty yards being assessed on the Gators and 30 being marked off on the Green Wave.

The skirmish as a result gave the ball to the Gators at the Easley 47-yard line. Marsh then carried the ball for 30 yards to the Easley 17. Five plays later, Goose Creek runner Mike Myers blasted in from five yards out. Ishibashi added the PAT, and with 1:17 to play in the third quarter the Gators were ahead 35-0.

GC added another score the next time they touched the ball. A quick three-play drive that covered 51 yards led to the touchdown. The big play was a 46-yard scamper by Gator runner Caleb Kinlaw to the Easley 1-yard line. Kinlaw got the final call as well, and took the ball in with 9:42 to play. Ishibashi’s PAT pushed the Gator lead to 42-0.

The final TD of the night was also on a Kinlaw run, this time a 65-yarder with only 2:16 to play. Ishibashi remained perfect, and that is how it ended  — Goose Creek 49, Easley 0.

The game marked the ended of the road for several Easley seniors.

“Anytime you take a program over, you know the underclassmen are going to buy in,” Smith said. “However, when the seniors at Easley bought in as well, our program really took off.  That is a testament to what kind of kids we have here and these seniors can always say that they were the group that turned it around.”