If you’re looking for the most intriguing matchup in the Lowcountry tonight, it’s at May River High School. But if you’re a fan of passing, maybe you should look elsewhere.
Two of the area’s most potent ground games — and the first two winners of RBC Heritage Player of the Week honors — square off in a battle of unbeaten teams when the Sharks host Whale Branch in the LowcoSports Game of the Week at 7:30 p.m. tonight.
Last year’s matchup looked like it might signal the arrival for May River, which rolled up 392 rushing yards in a 22-6 win in Seabrook. The Sharks won only one more game all season, but the potential they showed in that game has re-emerged this season, as they’ve boasted a dominant ground game behind a veteran offensive line.
Running back Brandon Morales and dual-threat quarterback Ahmad Green have combined for 523 yards in two games running behind that line, and Green has been able to use the success in the run game to burn defenses for quite a few deep balls. It might get tougher against a senior-laden Whale Branch defense that has allowed a total of nine points in two games and has seven takeaways.
The Warriors also boast a powerful ground game led by Wofford commit Irvin Mulligan, who is doing plenty to raise his profile among FBS programs, as he leads the area with 366 rushing yards and five touchdowns in two games. May River’s front seven has done a great job against the run in its first two games, but this will be its biggest test yet.
It should be a good one — and a quick one — and the team that improves to 3-0 will have earned it.
Let’s break down the matchup:
Game of the Week
PLAYERS TO WATCH
When Whale Branch has the ball:
• Whale Branch RB Irvin Mulligan: Mulligan is a load to bring down and has uncanny speed for his size. He has 429 yards on 19 touches (18 runs, one reception) for a remarkable 22.6 yards per touch and has visited the end zone six times in two games. This will be the best defense he has faced, but he will also be the most dominant offensive player the Sharks have seen.
• May River LB Jordan Barrow: The senior linebacker played out of his mind against Bluffton with 19 tackles after racking up 11 tackles (two for loss) in the opener against Memorial Day. His ability to get off blocks and stop Mulligan and the Warriors’ ground game before they get into the secondary will be critical to limiting the big plays that have carried Whale Branch through the first two games.
When May River has the ball:
• May River RB Brandon Morales: Morales was a question mark going into the season, but he has turned into an exclamation mark for the Sharks. The reigning RBC Heritage Player of the Week is a workhorse who has carried the ball 48 times for 308 yards and four touchdowns in two games, and his continued success is crucial to preventing defenses from keying on quarterback Ahmad Green and maintaining the effectiveness of the play-action pass.
• Whale Branch DE Chris Lyons: Lyons is not the Warriors’ leading tackler, but he has wrought the most havoc in the backfield with five tackles for loss and four sacks through two games. May River’s offensive line is stout, but Lyons is Whale Branch’s best chance to disrupt the read-option game and pressure Green in passing situations.
KEYS TO THE GAME
1. Force ‘em to pass. Neither team wants to put the ball in the air more than a few times per game, and they’d prefer to do so with play-action in non-obvious passing downs. The defense that gets consistent stops on first and second downs will have the edge.
2. Be disciplined. Nothing derails the plan to stay in running downs on offense or force the opposition into passing downs on defense quite like penalties. The least-penalized team will have a leg up.
3. Make. That. Kick. Both kickers have been reliable thus far, and in a game that could be tight and go down to the wire, one missed PAT or field goal could make all the difference.
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