High School Sports

Eagles ace chemistry

None of the Airport Eagles expected this outcome.

When Kirk Burnett's team went into spring practice, then hit the weight room over the summer, an undefeated regular season was - if anything - a passing daydream.

But here the Eagles are, entering the first round of the Class 3A playoffs with a 10-0 record, one of seven S.C. High School League teams to complete the regular season unblemished.

It's the first time Airport has accomplished the feat. Airport's junior varsity and ninth-grade teams also went unbeaten.

"It's just spectacular to be able to do something like this, make history at the school where most of us (coaches) played, to have the best record in 45 years of football," Burnett said.

"It's the ultimate payoff," senior quarterback W.T. Murden said. "You put everything in over the summer and in practice. For it to come back like this, unbeaten, that's so rewarding."

The Eagles began the season with a big question mark at defense.

With nine starters returning on offense, led by Murden, Airport was expected to rack up yardage and points.

Murden has completed 122 passes for 1,700 yards and 21 touchdowns. He rushed for 1,031 yards and senior back Ryan Smith rushed for 1,153 yards. The Eagles have averaged 44.4 points and nearly 460 yards of offense on their way to the Region 5-3A title.

No one expected a similar performance from the Eagle defense, which lost several starters from the previous season.

Senior linebacker Shawn Felder said the unit refused to become a liability.

"What really pushed us was people doubting us and thinking we would cost the team wins," Felder said "That pushed us to be a great defense, wanting to prove those people wrong."

Linebacker Charlie Crane added, "It was more pressure because people were looking at us on defense like we were nothing, and we really had to show that we are an asset to the team."

The results are clear, Burnett said.

"We were behind in a lot of games where the defense held until the offense could get us ahead, where they came up with big turnovers for us," Burnett said.

Opponents have averaged 240 yards and 17.4 points against the Airport defense, which starts eight seniors.

"On defense, we've got guys playing that I thought never would play this well for us and that has been a great surprise," Burnett said.

Smith, who also plays safety for the Eagles, said despite the difference in early predictions about the offense and defense, the team always thinks of itself as a whole.

As Murden explained, "We're all brothers out here and we'd do anything for each other.

"It's the chemistry we have between us that has made us so strong this season," Murden said. Burnett said that unselfishness came naturally to his team this year.

"When you have that, the game is just a lot different. The kids don't complain about who gets the ball on the scoring plays, they aren't blaming each other when we make a mistake," Burnett said.

So while the Eagles have made mistakes, they have always been able to fight back together and protect their record.

The next goal for the Eagles is simple: Make it last.

Airport plays host to Darlington in the first round of 3A playoffs at 7:30 p.m. on Friday night.

"We want to go all the way to the championship," Felder said, "That would be the best ending."