Seventh-ranked Pierce County scored a touchdown in each half and the Bears’ defensive unit put the clamps on Wayne County’s high-powered offense in a 14-0 victory.
PCHS (2-0) controlled the match up from beginning to end, limiting the Class AAAAA composite (average of six polls) seventh-ranked Yellow Jackets (1-1) to just 144 yards and four first downs while coming up with three turnovers.
Pierce County’s offense proved a perfect complement to the defensive unit, dominating the time of possession and moving the ball far out onto the field to keep the Jackets facing a long field when they started a drive. Wayne County took over in Bears’ territory only twice, once at the PCHS 45 and the other at the 49.
The visitors best chance to score on the night came after a 57-yard pass gave them first-and-10 at the Pierce County 18 on the first possession of the second half. Two plays later, defensive back Daytin Baker killed the threat with one of the Bears’ two interceptions.
“The defense played as good as you can ask them to play,” head coach Ryan Herring said of the unit that allowed just 66 rushing yards, much of it coming on a 27-yard quarterback scramble in the game’s final seconds. “The big thing this year is we’re getting help from our secondary. They’re making plays on balls and we didn’t have that last year.”
Linebacker Austin Jernigan had the other interception for the Bears, who allowed only three completions in 16 passes.
Running back D.J. Bell and quarterback Jermaine Brewton each scored a running touchdown for Pierce County. Bell’s covered 23 yards and came midway through the second quarter.
Brewton’s came on a 28-yard scamper in the game’s final minute.
Bell, a sophomore, ran 19 times for 128 yards to lead the Bears’ offense. Brewton, a senior, had 57 yards on 13 carries and completed 2-of-4 passes for 19 yards. Robert Jacobs followed each touchdown with a successful conversion kick.
PCHS’s lone negative on the night were 11 penalties for 84 yards, all on the offense.
“Those were our fault, not caused by the other team,” Herring said. “You’re generally not going to win with that many penalties on offense.”
Three penalties on the Yellow Jackets helped Pierce County to Bell’s touchdown, which capped a 94-yard drive. The first was a pass interference call on Wayne County safety Kaliz Hadley that wiped out his interception. When Hadley realized he’d been flagged, he became irate and tossed his helmet to draw an unsportsmanlike conduct infraction and a following ejection.
The two infractions gave the Bears a first down at their own 38. After Bell gained 13 on first down, Brewton was tackled by the face mask on a five-yard run resulting in another first down at the Wayne County 29.
Two plays later, Bell lined up at quarterback and ran off right tackle after the snap, made a quick cut outside and outran the last defender to the end zone with 7:10 left in the first half.
“We thought we might catch them off guard because we didn’t run (play) last week,” Herring said of Bell’s switch to quarterback. “You’re hoping for a good result the first time you do something like that, but we got a great result.”
The Bears decided to play possession football in the second half. Pierce County ran 19 plays over the final two periods and only one was a pass, which was completed.
“We knew in the second half we just needed to grind it out, protect the football and play good defense like we did in the first half,” Herring said. “We felt like if we could get first downs and keep playing good defense, we had a good shot at (winning).”
Save a couple of plays, the Bears abandoned their normal spread alignment, opting to use two tight ends along with a pair of running backs in front of either Bell or Brewton at quarterback.
“We knew it would be hard to run against them in our basic formation because they’re so fast and it’s hard to stay on blocks with them,” the coach said. “We went ahead and got in the ‘heavy’ formation and even though you have more people in the box, they’re spread out because they have to honor two more gaps on each side.”
Brewton’s run was a prime example of the alignment’s effectiveness. The quarterback started into the right side of the line, but quickly dipped to the outside and ran untouched to the end zone with 55.6 seconds remaining.
“We definitely improved (from last week to this week),” said Herring, whose team is at home this week against Claxton. “The only negative was the offensive penalties.
“I’m proud of these boys and coaches. They put in a lot of hours this week to get ready and it paid off big.”