“It felt so good to be back out there on a Friday night watching our players ... there is nothing better than high school football.”
Pierce County head coach Ryan Herring was not only talking about himself, but the rest of his staff and the community as a whole following Friday night’s opening 31-10 victory over Class AAAAAA Brunswick High in the first-ever meeting between the two schools.
“With the way things are going across America with businesses being burned down every day,” said Herring, “we’re building our community.”
The victory by the Bears, ranked fifth by MaxPreps and eighth by the Atlanta Journal Constitution, extended their school-record regular season winning streak to 21 games dating back to the start of 2018. It was also the first win against a Class 6A opponent in two meetings.
“All the credit goes to the players and the glory to God,” said Herring upon hearing of the historic win.
The MaxPreps’ 25th-ranked Pirates, led by one-time PCHS head coach Sean Pender and Bears’ alum Garrett Grady, had trouble slowing the Bears’ offense (347 yards total offense). Pierce County was 4-of-5 on third down conversions, and did not have a single third-down attempt over the final 24 minutes.
“We wanted to be more downhill than east and west,” said Herring of his new scheme that included the I-formation for the first time in nearly a decade. Both our backs (D.J. Bell and L.J. Newton) ran hard. We (coaches) want D.J. to get about 20 carries a game. With L.J. starting on the defense, his carries will be limited.
“The offensive line, for a majority of the night, did a great job. There were times that was not so,” Herring says.
Bell finished with 14 carries for 77 yards in his first start in the backfield. Newton, last year’s leading rusher, carried five times for 36 yards in the second half and scored a touchdown giving PCHS a 31-2 advantage.
The not so was a penalty issue. The Bears had six of their seven mental mistakes on offense including three holding penalties.
“We (coaches) will look at the film,” Herring said. “That’s an area we have to clean up. You can’t have touchdowns and first downs wiped out by a penalty.”
Brunswick also had trouble moving the ball offensively (188 total yards) managing just one touchdown, that coming with just over a minute left to play. The Pirates had 113 yards rushing.
Chuckobe Hill, a 1,000-yard rusher in 2019, left the game midway through the opening period with a leg injury and did not return. He finished with 45 yards on four carries. His backup, Ree Simmons, totaled 59 yards on 15 carries.
“We’ve got two new coaches (defensive coordinator Swane Morris; defensive line coach Dave Watson) on the defensive side of the ball and they’ve brought a little more life and fire to that side of the ball,” said Herring. “We did a lot of bluffing with our coverages showing one thing and changing to something else just before the snap. I thought we did a pretty good job of disguising.”
PCHS held the Pirates to 5-of-13 in third down conversions and 0-of-3 in fourth down tries. The Bears harassed quarterbacks K.J. Lee and Jeffery Waye into a 7-of-19 night with one interception and just 70 yards.
“After going hard for so long we (coaches) went easy Tuesday and Wednesday,” said Herring of practices. “We wanted the players to have their legs for the game because we have so many playing both ways. I’m just so proud of the way they responded. That was huge.”
The only scoring of the opening period was a safety recorded by the Brunswick defense at the 8:55 mark. The play came on the Bears’ first offensive snap of the season from their own one following a 44-yard punt.
“That was definitely not the start I wanted,” Herring said.
Pierce County’s second possession was a time-consuming (8:53), 63-yard drive in 14 plays that ended with a Robert Jacobs’ 38-yard field goal with 8:51 on the first-half clock for a 3-2 lead.
PCHS ran the ball on 12 of the 14 plays and converted 3-of-4 third down tries.
Following a three-and-out by the Brunswick offense, the Bears scored their first touchdown of the year at the end of a 72-yard drive in six plays. Quarterback Jermaine Brewton (nine carries, 42 yards) did the honors with a Houdini-like run from 24 yards out.
Flushed left after taking the snap, Brewton eluded one would-be tackler on the edge, turned backwards to the middle of the field before turning upfield with a clear path to the endzone. Jacobs split the uprights with the first of his four PATs for a 10-2 advantage with four minutes remaining in the half.
The two teams exchanged a pair of turnovers on the first two possessions of the third quarter. Brewton (10-of-13, two interceptions, 190 yards, two touchdowns) had a pass deflect off a receiver into the hands of Brunswick defensive back Keon Leggett at the Pirates’ 46.
Brunswick was denied when Lee’s deep post pattern pass five plays later was intercepted by Zay Plummer on a diving effort at the Bears’ two.
Pierce County needed just three plays to cover the length of the field. Two running plays punched the ball out to the 17. Brewton found a streaking Luke Bennett behind the Pirates’ secondary for an 83-yard catch-and-run score upping the advantage to 17-2 with 6:21 showing on the third quarter clock.
A fourth-and-one from its own 32 went awry for Brunswick on the ensuing possession. The Pirates fumbled the ball away with PCHS taking control at the 27.
The Bears needed three plays to score on an eight-yard toss from Brewton to Knox Bennett with 2:20 remaining in the period for a 24-2 lead. The big play was a 28-yard pass from Brewton to Maleek Chandel one play earlier following a holding penalty.
Pierce County’s final touchdown came with 4:56 to play in the game. Starting at the Pirates’ 48, PCHS rode the legs of Newton to score in four plays. The senior bolted five yards for the touchdown upping the margin to 31-2.
Brunswick followed with its lone touchdown of the night with 1:19 to play. Lee tossed a 13-yard scoring strike to Tyrease Jones on the 10th play of the drive. Simmons ran in the two-point conversion.
The Bears will host Wayne County, a 29-13 winner over Class AAA Hart County in its homeopener, Friday night at 7:30 p.m.