If you've driven to Myrtle Beach down Highway 9, there's a good chance you didn't notice Chesterfield when you passed through.
It sits quietly off the highway, tucked between Pageland to the west and Cheraw to the east, with diagonal parking on Main Street and a sleeping dog in the front door of the Town Hall.
Chesterfield, population 1,400 give or take, is a gentle place enduring hard times. It also has an extraordinary high school football team.
Five years ago, former South Carolina quarterback Steve Taneyhill arrived as the Chesterfield High football coach - taking over a program that had won three games in three seasons - and transformed the people, the place and the program. Tonight against Buford, the 11-0 Rams continue their quest for a third straight S.C. Class A state championship.
"People used to try to get us to be their homecoming game," said wide receiver Jonathan Murvin. "It's different now."
These days, football season glows.
"It's like Mayberry," Richard Clark, the head coach before Taneyhill, said. "The kids still listen to you."
What about the economy, the jobs that are going away?
"On Friday nights, it doesn't matter," Clark said.
There are similar stories throughout the Carolinas, small towns where the success of the high school football team has, at least temporarily, taken the edge off tough economic times.
West Rowan in Mount Ulla, N.C., and Hibriten in Lenoir, N.C., are both 11-0, but the unemployment rate in those areas is around 15 percent. The recession is strangling the economy in Bennettsville, where Marlboro County is 11-0, and in Abbeville, where Abbeville High is 10-1.
In Chesterfield, the unemployment rate was 3.2 percent before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Now it's 16.2 percent. Textile jobs have dried up. The bearing plant has cut jobs. There's no industry to speak of.
No business in Chesterfield employs 100 people, mayor John Douglas said. Some residents drive 50 miles to Charlotte each work day.
"We've never really boomed here so we didn't have to worry about the bust," Douglas said.
Pageland, 20 miles away, has a Wal-Mart distribution facility and a Conbraco plant, where they make valves. For 38 straight football seasons, Pageland also had a better football team. Now Chesterfield wins the football games, even as it loses jobs.
The Rams beat Lewisville 70-0 in the first round of the playoffs last Friday.
They are small, quick and celebrated. Around town, they'll proudly tell you the junior varsity went 9-0 and the middle school was 8-0 this season, each running a variation of Taneyhill's pass-first offense.
Ribbons in the team's blue and gold colors, sold at the Grapevine Flower Shop downtown, decorate lamp posts and mailboxes. Team banners adorn telephone poles on the road to the school. At lunch every day in the Olde Towne Restaurant, they serve meat loaf, deep-fried bologna sandwiches and a side of football.
"We've been losing jobs here for 8 to 10 years," said Doren Jackson, manager of the Piggly Wiggly on Highway 9. "But the football team is the bright spot.
"Our business is down 2 percent from last year. We're seeing more food stamps and more government help. But I've raised kids here. I wouldn't want to move away. There's no movie theater, no bowling alley. Everybody looks forward to Friday nights."
It wasn't this way before Taneyhill, a Pennsylvania-born rebel, arrived.
He was a hell-raising, pony-tailed, trash-talking quarterback who came to the University of South Carolina in 1992 with an arm and an attitude.
Taneyhill, 36, may not have been the best quarterback to play for the Gamecocks, but he was the next best thing - unforgettable.
He owns school records for pass completions (753) and touchdown passes (62) and a place in Gamecock hearts for his brash style. He signed the tiger paw emblem at midfield after South Carolina won at Clemson, hit imaginary home runs after touchdowns and quarterbacked the Gamecocks to their first-ever bowl victory.
Taneyhill works now as an administrative assistant at Chesterfield High, in addition to coaching football. His once famous hair has thinned, and what remains is cut short.
In his cluttered office, there is a framed copy of a newspaper page from his glory days, showing the quarterback raising his arms in a touchdown symbol against a backdrop of orange-clad Clemson fans in Death Valley.
"I'm still that guy inside," Taneyhill said, glancing up at the photo.
When athletic director Jimmy Weatherford hired Taneyhill five years ago, he knew the program needed a jolt. The wrestling program has won five state championships. Baseball has been successful, as have other sports.
At a school of 540 students, he knew there were enough good athletes to win in football.
"He kept standing out," Weatherford said. "He was precise in what he wanted to do and knew exactly how he wanted to do it."
A dominant team
Taneyhill had coached Cambridge Academy in Greenwood to three state championships in five years in an eight-man football league. He spent one year as assistant at West Ashley High in Charleston but didn't like the fit.
He found what he wanted at Chesterfield.
"I don't know that I ever thought we'd be this good this fast," Taneyhill said.
The Rams are small, with only one defensive player weighing more than 200 pounds. But with quarterback Seth Truesdale, wide receivers Sergio Johnson and Murvin, and Shrine Bowl defensive lineman Delarius "Moon" Edwards, Chesterfield has overwhelmed opponents.
This season, Chesterfield has outscored its opposition 511-32.
"The class of 2010, we grew up talking about how good we could be," Murvin, a senior, said. "We know we're the best team."
Taneyhill has instilled confidence, not arrogance, in his players. He plays aggressive football. In 2005, Taneyhill's first as coach, his team tried 11 onsides kicks - a high-risk tactic teams rarely use. They went for two points almost every time they scored a touchdown. Twice they lost games by a point because the two-point conversions failed, but they didn't lose faith.
A 3-8 season was followed by a trip to the state championship in 2006. The Rams have been back every year since.
For all his antics as a college player, he is a strict disciplinarian as a coach.
Each night, his team captains call him at 10 p.m. The captains call their teammates - on their home phones, not their cell phones - to make sure they're home, then report back to Taneyhill.
On the sideline during games, Taneyhill barks orders. Players know they'll have to run sprints for mistakes and penalties. But he makes sure they celebrate touchdowns, no matter how many they score.
"I want them to have fun, and we do," Taneyhill said.
Maybe that's why Taneyhill has a selfish - and so far unfulfilled - goal. He wants to play a game where his team throws a pass on every offensive play.
The Rams got halfway there this season, throwing it every play in the first half against Indian Land. Up 48-0 at halftime, Taneyhill relented.
His message is simple.
"I tell them you're only guaranteed 10 nights," Taneyhill said. "You work 12 months for those 10 nights so when you play, take advantage of it."
Tailgates and pep rallies
Game night in Chesterfield starts early.
On Thursday nights during the playoffs, the team gathers at the Piggly Wiggly parking lot for a pep rally. The players stand on flat-bed trucks and are introduced by a local 9-year-old emcee.
Despite the November chill, the fans come, wearing blue and gold. Sweatshirts. Caps. Grown men in Chesterfield High scarves with bells on the end.
Beside the stadium, Gene Teal and his friends set up a tent for tailgating. Fish stew is on the menu.
The conversation turns, briefly, to the economy.
"It hurts here," Teal said. "But everything revolves around this team. Everybody rallies around this team.
"This was a textile area but everything's gone away. It's hurting the housing market and construction and everything just trickles down."
Bill Cassidy runs a construction company, but says "I don't have a home under contract. It's the first time in 12 years. Until two years ago, I'd have five houses at a time under construction. Now, new construction is gone."
But it's also a generous town, especially in these times.
"If somebody gets down, if there's a cancer victim or an accident victim, people rally together," said David Sweatt, a 1981 Chesterfield grad. "We have a lot of fundraisers.
"We are what you see. If you were to lose your job, you have family here to fall back on.
Finally, game time
As kickoff approaches, so does the anticipation.
Over the loud speakers, a tape rolls with each Chesterfield starter introducing himself. A clip of dialogue from the television show "Friday Night Lights" plays, describing what game nights mean.
A bus carries the Chesterfield players from the locker room to the far end of the field. They wait behind a white tent that serves as a tunnel.
Smoke billows. The band plays. Fireworks explode.
A town has gathered, knowing that soon, by the Friday after Thanksgiving if there's another state championship game to play, football season will be over.
But, in part because of football, there is hope.
"When I left for college, I said I'd never come back," Sweatt, the 1981 grad, said. "When I got to my fourth year of college, I wanted to come back here and never leave."