Senior quarterback Jermaine Brewton accounted for five touchdowns, four rushing and one passing, leading sixth-ranked Pierce County to a 51-18 quarterfinal victory over Carver-Atlanta.
It was the Bears second playoff game with more than 50 points after opening with a 59-14 romp of Burke County. They followed that with a workmanlike 42-0 pasting last week of Central-Macon.
As has been the case during a seven-game winning streak, the PCHS defense has done its job in shutting down enemy offenses. The Bears (11-1) recorded 11 stops at or behind the line of scrimmage allowing the visitors just 186 yards of total offense.
The Bears limited the visitors to just 66 total yards in the first half while taking a 30-6 lead.
“You hear it all the time, but anytime you play good defense you have a chance to win,” said Pierce County head coach Ryan Herring. “Late in the game, we didn’t do some things so well, but overall we played really good defense.”
The Bears tagged the Panthers (6-5) with five sacks for minus-33 yards and added six other stops for zero or negative yards. Pierce County also recovered a fumble, intercepted a pass and limited Carver to only three plays before a punt or turnover on seven possessions.
Carver averaged just 3.8 yards per snap, but pull the 58-yard pass that keyed the final scoring drive and that average dipped to 2.7 yards. The Panthers longest run was a 16-yarder in their first scoring possession late in the first half.
“It was a brutal game in the trenches,” Herring said afterwards. “They have a massive line and I’m sure our guys are going to be sore tomorrow (Saturday). That was lot of mass to handle, but the kids did a great job.”
Brewton was at the center of win, running for touchdowns of five, six (twice) and two yards, and connecting with Maleek Chandel on a 20-yard pass for another.
The senior had 42 yards rushing on 19 attempts and completed 10-of-12 passes for 117 more.
Running back D.J. Bell had 173 yards on 14 carries with a touchdown while back-up L.J. Newton collected the Bears’ final touchdown in the closing minutes with a 56-yard burst up the middle with his only carry.
“The line did a great job of setting up the zone (blocking),” Herring said. “D.J. did a nice job of reading it for some big plays. Jermaine came in to get some critical yards.”
Bell had nine runs of 12 or more yards, including his 14-yard touchdown run out of the “Big Bear.”
Robert Jacobs had a field goal and six conversion kicks with the other being blocked to conclude the Bear’s scoring.
Quarterback Kiontae Strozier had two of Carver’s touchdowns while running back/receiver Tobias Robinson had the other.
The win moves Pierce County into the semifinals for the second time in three seasons. The Bears will face Crisp County, a 16-13 winner last week against two-time defending champion Cedar Grove, at 7:30 p.m. Friday at home. Cedar Grove defeated Crisp in last year’s title game.
After being stopped on its first possession of the game, the Bears scored the next five times they had the ball for the big halftime cushion.
A nine-yard Carver punt gave the Bears possession at the Panthers 26. Brewton teamed with Chandel on a wide receiver screen on the first play to give the Bears first-and-goal at the Panthers’ one.
However, a bobbled snap by Bell, who was lined up at quarterback in the Pierce County “Big Bear” running formation, lost seven yards and a chop block penalty on the next play tacked on another 15. The Bears couldn’t recover, but Jacobs salvaged three points with a 23-yard field goal.
Although Pierce County didn’t get a touchdown, the Brewton-to-Chandel pass paid big dividends on the game’s subsequent possessions.
“Everything kind of loosened up after that play,” Herring said. “I think it created a new dynamic for them to worry about. We were able to run the ball in the middle with more success.”
The Bears turned a sack and fumble by Strozier at the Carver 20 into their first touchdown and a 10-0 lead as the first quarter ended.
After forcing another punt, Pierce County needed just four plays to cover 52 yards to go up 17-0 with 9:31 left in the half on Brewton’s second TD run. With the running lanes stretched by that earlier screen pass, Bell collected 39 of the drive’s yards on two carries.
Carver then compiled its longest possession of the game to get on the board. The Panthers went 65 yards in 14 plays, converting three third downs and a fourth, and also overcame a holding penalty. Robinson ended the march with a 10-yard run on first-and-goal with 3:49 left in the second period.
It took the Bears less than two minutes to get that score back with Brewton’s third tally on the sixth play of a 52-yard drive. Pierce County, however, wasn’t through for the half.
After forcing another punt, the Bears took over on their 46 with 42.2 seconds left. After two incompletions, Brewton caught the Panther in an all-out blitz with a tunnel screen to Ty Miles that gained 26 yards.
Two incompletions later, Brewton hit Chandel on a skinny post in the middle of the field, and the receiver bounced off a hit at the five, put his hand on the ground to keep from going down before crossing the goal line with only 12.5 seconds left.
“That might’ve been the nail in the coffin,” Herring said of the rapid-fire scores to end the half. “That was a lot of momentum to have going into halftime.”
After Carver scored on its first possession of the second half, Brewton finished his scoring night with his six-yard run to end a five-play, 60-yard march. Bell, a junior, opened the drive with back-to-back 21-yard runs.
After Strozier finished Carver’s scoring with his second touchdown run with 7:36 left in the game, Bell and Newton finished things off for the Bears. Bell scored on a 14-yard run with 4:37 left and Newton on the first play after a punt with 2:38 left.
Pierce County will be seeking its first berth in a state championship game this week against Crisp (11-1). Cedar Grove eliminated the Bears two years ago 30-6 on the way to the title.
“Last week was a roller-coaster high and tonight was another one,” Herring said. “We made a few mistakes on both sides of the ball that we definitely have to clean up before next week, but the kids still found a way to win the game.”