D.J. Bell and Jermaine Brewton combined for 249 yards with Bell scoring twice and Brewton throwing for a score leading Pierce County to a 20-13 win over ELCA.
The Bears’ defense limited Class A’s top-ranked private school to 175 total yards while Bell ran for 158 yards in the non-region game.
The win was the fourth straight to start the season for sixth-ranked Class AAA Pierce County and 24th consecutive in regular season play. It was also the 15th straight win at home in the regular season over the past three years.
The victory was the second-ever for PCHS over a No. 1-ranked foe. The Bears beat Class A top-ranked Clinch County in the 1981 season opener. They lost to Clinch County (1991), Washington County (1994, 2014) and Charlton County (2006) in other match ups.
Pierce County’s defensive effort was even more impressive considering it gave up nearly half the yardage total on the Chargers’ first possession, which was capped by a 59-yard touchdown run from Brandon Hood. The Bears allowed only eight first downs — just two coming in the second half.
After Hood’s dash, ELCA (2-3) managed just 88 yards on 36 plays with 46 of those yards coming on four Hood runs in the final 37.1 seconds of the half with Pierce County in a prevent defense.
“Really, really proud of the defense,” Pierce County head coach Ryan Herring said. “Some things didn’t go right, but we bowed up when we had to and made the plays to get stops. That wins you games.”
Bell, a fleet, shifty sophomore, sprinted for his rushing total on 21 carries. He scored on runs of 32 and 20 yards with the latter providing the clinching score with 3:47 left in the game.
“He’s a very good running back,” Herring said of the 5-foot-11, 180-pounder. “It’s a luxury when you have a guy back there like him.”
Behind Bell’s lead, the Bears totaled 278 yards, which included a loss of 34 yards for a high snap on a punt attempt. Quarterback Jermaine Brewton passed for 62 yards and ran for another 58. The senior and four-year starter teamed up with Knox Bennett on a four-yard pass for Pierce County’s other touchdown.
The Bears could’ve been more productive had they not suffered seven penalties totaling 71 yards. The bulk of the infractions came at inopportune times to stymie the offense.
Pierce County had four major penalties that led it to settle for field goals (both missed) or being forced to punt on four possessions after being deep in Chargers’ territory.
“If we can get away from those penalties, we have a great night,” Herring said. “We have to get away from those yellow flags, they killed us. You get behind the chains because of penalties, it makes it tough no matter how good your offense is playing.”
Senior kicker Robert Jacobs missed field goal attempts of 37 and 40 yards, and the unit also suffered a bad snap on a extra point try.
“We have a good kicker,” Herring said of Jacobs. “We have to get that timing and the operational aspect of it fixed.”
It took only five plays for the Chargers to take the lead. Hood, who finished with 121 yards on 17 carries, burst through a hole off right tackle and outraced the pursuit for a touchdown with 9:57 left in the first quarter.
“I think they did a really good job of blocking on that play,” Herring said. “I think we got used to what they doing and got after it from there.”
The Bears answered on the ensuing possession, moving 73 yards on seven plays. Bell capped the drive with his first score, a run up the middle on which he made a couple of defenders miss with a nifty stop-start move and another cut in the secondary.
“He made some good players miss,” Herring said. “That’s what a good running back does.”
The Bears defense showed up big the rest of the half. They first stuffed Chargers’ quarterback Philip Massengale for no gain on a 4th-and-1 at the ELCA 27 and then forced two three-and-outs.
Pierce County, however, only converted the third stop into points after Jacobs missed on field goals following the first two. A 15-yard return by Bell and a facemask penalty on the play set up the Bears at the ELCA 30 after the second punt with 5:36 left in the half.
Brewton gave Pierce County the lead at halftime when he found Bennett alone in the front corner of the end zone with a pass off misdirection action with just 37.1 seconds left in the half.
The Bears defense preserved the lead early in the second half when it again smothered Massengale on a 4th-and-1 keeper at the Pierce County 11. The possession had been set up at the PCHS 18 following a 45-yard interception return by Peter Simmons, who was run down from behind by Bell to prevent a touchdown.
The Chargers appeared ready to tie the game with 9:46 left after Massengale hit Mac Craig with a touchdown pass on a 4th-and-goal play from the PCHS three. However, the snap sailed past the holder and kicker on the conversion attempt to leave the score at 14-13.
It stayed that way until another bad snap by ELCA, this one on a 4th-and-9 punt attempt that eluded Massengale. That gave the Bears first down at the Chargers’ 20. Bell went up the middle on the next play for touchdown. Another bad snap negated Jacobs’ extra point try.
Pierce County’s defense made the points stand up by sacking Massengale on two of three plays before forcing a punt with 1:49 remaining. With ELCA out of timeouts, the Bears ran out the clock.
The game came on a last-minute contract when Pierce County lost its scheduled game with Clinch County, when that school was closed the previous week for the coronavirus. ELCA, which had played three ranked foes from higher classes previously this season, agreed to the four-hour drive south to face a fourth.
“I have great respect for their head coach,” Herring said of Jonathan Gess, who’s guided the Chargers to the last five Class A private school state championships. “For them to drive four hours to play us, is a testament to him and their program. I see now in person why they win every year.”