Pierce County begins its quest for a third consecutive region title Friday night when the eighth-ranked Bears travel to Brantley County in the Region 1-AAA opener for both teams.
The meeting is the 38th between the neighboring programs, the most for PCHS against one team. The Bears hold a 24-13 series lead after winning the last nine matchups by an average score of 46-14.
“This is a big game because it is the region opener and we have to go over there,” said PCHS head coach Ryan Herring. “It’s important to win the first game in region play. I believe we will have a big crowd. We had three times as many fans as Fitzgerald had and that was awesome — that spoke highly of our community and the support we have.”
Each program enters after an open week, the second for PCHS (4-1) and the first for the winless Herons (0-6). Pierce County enters having lost a regular season game for the first time since 2017, a 24-17 setback at Class AA favorite and second-ranked Fitzgerald.
“The one good thing about the loss was the guys were ready to get back to work,” Herring said. “We needed the off week to heal up, though. We should have a couple of players returning and that will help.”
The Bears murderous row non-region schedule of Class AAAAAA Brunswick, Class AAAAA Wayne County, Class A Public) Claxton, Class A (Private) ELCA and Class AA Fitzgerald was to prepare them for region play and beyond. All five reached the state playoffs a year ago.
ELCA and Fitzgerald were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 respectively at game time. The five opponents have combined for a 17-12 mark (.586 win percentage).
“I wanted the tough schedule, one of the toughest this program has ever played,” Herring said of the non-region slate. “We almost came out of it perfect. The Fitzgerald game had a playoff-type atmosphere which was great. We made a couple of little mistakes that hurt us, but you hopefully learn from those and get better.”
Herring is also hopeful sophomore running back D.J. Bell (76 carries, 694 rushing yards, five touchdowns) can help in the run game after suffering an ankle injury against the Purple Hurricane. Bell still managed 183 yards on 20 carries in the loss, his fourth consecutive 100-yard rushing night. He was run down twice after breaking into the open secondary on his gimpy leg.
“D.J. is day-to-day,” Herring said of his electrifying runner.
Senior quarterback Jermaine Brewton, who is 33-9 as a four-year starter, has completed 42-of-62 passes (11 different receivers) for 558 yards with seven touchdowns and four interceptions. He has rushed for 228 yards on 52 attempts and scored three times.
Herring says the key against Brantley County is to establish the run and be balanced.
“We need to throw the ball when we want to throw it and not because we have to throw it,” said Herring. “That’s the balance I’m looking for.”
The coach believes Brantley County will put eight men in the box to stop the run.
“Their (Herons) goal is to stop the run,” Herring said. “They will keep their outside backers close and the secondary will try to keep the passes in front of them.”
The Bears, who are tied for ninth in points allowed in Class AAA at 10 points a game, will face an offense in its third week of utilizing the spread. Brantley County changed from a run-based offense the week of its last game against Cook.
“It’s a more wide open, spread the field alignment with more empty formations,” said Herring. “It’s not what we had seen from any of their (Herons) previous games. They have a good athlete at the quarterback position and it (change) may be to give him more room to run utilizing all 53 yards across the field in this scheme.
“When you don’t really know what to expect, you better have a good base defense that’s well versed, able to adapt and can still put pressure on the quarterback. You also have to be able to mix up coverages to try and confuse a quarterback.”