Efficient and methodical on offense, and dominating on defensive.
That best describes sixth-ranked Region 1 champion Pierce County’s 42-0 victory over Region 2 third-seed Central-Macon. It’s the second year in a row the Bears (10-1) have knocked off the Chargers (6-4). PCHS rolled 49-6 in a 2019 first round match up.
Up next for the Bears is a home date Friday night with Region 5 runner-up Carver-Atlanta (6-4). The Panthers escaped with a 23-21 victory over Region 7 champion Cherokee Bluff (10-2).
Pierce County had 363 yards of total offense on 47 plays averaging 7.7 yards per snap. The Bears had 234 yards rushing and 129 passing while controlling the clock for 30:02.
The Bears defense was equally impressive, limiting the visitors to 97 total yards on just 36 plays, an average of 2.7 per attempt. The Chargers had just five first downs, only one in the second half. They only had the ball for 17:58.
“Efficiency is probably the best way to put it,” Bears head coach Ryan Herring said. “We’re running the same plays (as earlier in season) ... you just hope you get better each week (with execution) and at this time of the year don’t make mistakes so you have a chance to win.”
“Defensively, we came out and played better than we did last week ... we had to.”
Offensively, PCHS scored on its first six possessions for a 42-0 lead with 59 seconds left in the third quarter. For the second straight week the Bears scored on their initial snap — a 33-yard run by D.J. Bell (16 carries, 124 yards).
After that PCHS put together scoring drives 62 yards in three plays (49 seconds), 70 in eight (3:50), 68 in 12 (7:15), 81 in six (3:27) and 39 in 10 (4:11) rolling up 18 first downs.
Like Bell, quarterback Jermaine Brewton (11 caries, 71 yards) also scored on a pair of runs. He threw for a pair of touchdowns as well.
Pierce County’s defensive game plan was simple — make Central-Macon’s athletic quarterback more one-dimensional. That’s because senior Jalik Thomas was such a threat, particularly if he was able to escape pressure on pass plays.
“We (defensive coaches) preached all week about containing the quarterback and not letting him beat us with his legs,” Herring said. “I thought the kids did a great job of doing their job. (Thomas) only got out a couple of times. When he did escape you saw how good he was.
“We put the defense through a lot trying to get ready for that quarterback. I know they got tired of hearing me talk about him, but they did a great job.”
Thomas, whom Herring called in the days leading to the game the best athlete the Bears had faced all season, broke for runs of 18, 20 and 33 yards to account for three of Central’s first downs.
Those three runs totaled 71 yards. His other nine carries, including four sacks, were for minus-30 yards. Thomas finished with 12 carries for 41 yards.
All total, the Bears recorded 11 negative plays for minus-59 yards.
“We didn’t have anything fancy (in strategy),” said Herring. We just wanted to make him beat us throwing and not with his legs. Even though we shut him down pretty well, you can’t explain how good an athlete he is. We just didn’t want him to get outside.”
Running back Maurice Elder, who had a 300-yard rushing night earlier in the season against Mary Persons, was limited to 33 yards on 12 tries.
PCHS got rolling early with Bell’s first score at 9:54 coming after a 25-yard punt by the Chargers. Central-Macon then moved to the Bears’ 20 on its next possession.
However, a tackle for loss of Elder by Danarius Johnson, incomplete pass and a sack by John Manghir for another 15-yard loss led to Thomas heaving a fourth down prayer into the end zone that was knocked down.
Pierce County responded with a 62-yard drive capped by Bell’s 12-yard run. Robert Jacobs split the uprights with the second of his six PATs with 4:51 on the first quarter clock.
The Bears’ next possession went 70 yards with Brewton (11-of-14) connecting with H-back Austin Jernigan on a 4-yard scoring pass with 10:29 left in the half for a 21-0 advantage.
PCHS’s final touchdown of the half was a methodical seven-minute drive with Brewton scoring on an 11-yard run just 59.4 seconds before intermission for a 28-0 lead. Brewton’s 31-yard pass to Zay Plummer keyed the 68-yard march.
“That was a little play action, backside post,” Herring said of the pass, which came after the Bears had opened the drive with five straight runs. “It was a nice throw and Zay went up and made a great catch.”
The Bears opened the second half with an 81-yard drive in six plays. Brewton connected with Knox Bennett for a nine-yard scoring toss with 8:31 on the clock increasing the margin to 35-0.
A short punt by Central-Macon after a three-and-out set up the final score. Brewton scored on a 12-yard run on a 4th-and-four play capping the possession. Operating from the “Big Bear” alignment that has two blockers in the backfield in front of Brewton in the shotgun, the quarterback broke through the line and weaved through defenders for the score. Jacobs’ PAT finished off the scoring.
“Either 42-0 or 1-0, we’re moving on,” Herring said. “I’m happy for these boys.”