The stars have seemingly aligned for defending Class AAA state champion Pierce County in its bid to defend its 2020 crown.
A universal coin toss last week by the GHSA provided home field advantage for teams in the bottom of the bracket when matched up against teams of the same seed.
What would have been a possible match up between top-ranked and unbeaten Monroe Area was foiled when Region 2 runner-up Peach County (8-3) spoiled the Hurricanes’ bid for perfect season with a 24-21 victory.
“They (Trojans) have some good looking players,” said PCHS head coach Ryan Herring. “They are well-coached in all three phases (offense, defense, special teams). This is a program that just wins every year and that’s a testament to the coaches and players.”
“Going up to Monroe shows you they can win on the road. Peach County is solid everywhere on both sides of the ball.”
The perennial playoff contending Trojans visit Bearville the day after Thanksgiving for a match up with third-ranked PCHS (10-2). Friday’s “Elite 8” game will be the ninth consecutive post-season game in Bears Stadium since a 2018 semifinal loss at Cedar Grove.
If the Bears survive, they would also host the semifinals against the winner of Region 4 runner-up Burke County (9-2) and eighth-ranked Region 5 runner-up Carver-Atlanta (9-2).
The second round 49-0 victory over Dawson County gave the Bears a fourth consecutive 10-plus win season and the seventh over the past 10 years. PCHS is 98-26 during that time with an 67-12 home record including a 17-3 mark in the playoffs.
A home date December 3 won’t matter if Pierce County doesn’t win Friday night in the quarterfinals.
PCHS and the Trojans have met two previous times in the second round of the playoffs. Then fifth-ranked Peach County won 43-15 in Bearville in 2012 and posted a 34-14 win as the second-ranked team in 2017 at home.
The Trojans are making a sixth consecutive “Elite 8” appearance under long-time head coach Chad Campbell (160-33; 15 years). Peach County has won 10-plus games nine teams with Campbell including nine region titles and the 2009 state championship. The Trojans have finished runner-up three other times (2011, 2017-18).
Peach County enters having won five straight games including playoff wins over Morgan County (42-3) and the Hurricanes. The Trojans are averaging 36.2 points a game during the winning streak and 35.3 overall for the season.
Pierce County is making its second straight appearance in the quarterfinals, third in four years, and sixth all-time. The Bears are 2-3 having beaten third-ranked and unbeaten Monroe Area 24-7 in 2018 at home and Carver-Atlanta 51-18 last year in Bearville.
PCHS has won six consecutive games, the last four via shutout, by an average score of 37.5 to 2.0. The last touchdown allowed by the Bears’ starting defensive unit came in the fourth quarter of a 28-21 loss to Rabun County back on October 1.
The Peach County offense (137 yards rushing, 197 passing per game), a pro-style scheme that implements some spread, is directed by sophomore Colter Ginn (5-foot-10, 140 lbs.), who has completed 37-of-64 passes (58 percent) for 556 yards and 11 touchdowns against two interceptions.
“They like to run the inside and outside zone,” said Herring. “They (coaches) are going to mix the run and pass. Peach County, as always, has a huge offensive line.”
Freshman Chris McMillon is the leading rusher with 541 yards (5.3 average) and seven touchdowns. Senior Jamond Jones (5-9, 196) is next with 333 yards (7.4 per) and six touchdowns.
Ginn and former starting signal-caller Christain Martin (6-2, 170) have thrown to a plethora of receivers (17 total).
Freshman Isaiah Mitchell leads the team in receptions (29) and yards (396) and has five touchdowns. Junior tight end Skyler Mann (6-2, 205) has 17 catches for 384 yards (team-high 22.6 per reception) and a team-leading seven scores.
Senior tight end Ladaria Leggett (6-5, 225) has 24 catches for 363 yards and five touchdowns. Sophomore Dylan Johnson (5-11, 150) has 25 receptions for 297 yards and two scores.
Peach County’s base defense is a 4-3, but Herring is unsure what the Trojans may do to try and stop the Bears’ single wing scheme.
“What we do is different than what most teams ever see,” said Herring. “I don’t know what Peach County may do. I will tell you their (Trojans) front seven is pretty strong.
“It’s a good defense from the front end to the back end and it starts with those three three-star down linemen. Whatever we do offensively we’re going to have to earn it. It’s definitely going to be a challenge for us.”
Junior free safety Jayden Parker and senior linebacker Eli Brown (5-9, 195) are the top tacklers with 53 each. Brown has six tackles for loss and two quarterback sacks.
Senior Kilian McCray anchors the defensive front with 50 stops, five tackles for loss and four sacks. Senior Quentel Jones (6-2, 260) and junior Armard Davis join McCray on the defensive front with each credited with 46 stops. Jones has 10 tackles for loss, three sacks and has caused three fumbles. Davis has five tackles for loss and two sacks.
Senior outside linebacker Andre Thomas (6-2, 207) leads the team in tackles for loss with 13. He has five sacks and two fumble recoveries.
Senior Mason Maddox (6-1, 180) handles all the kicking duties for the Trojans. He’s converted 39-of-41 PATs, 5-of-10 field goals with a long of 31, has booted 43-of-63 kickoffs for touch backs, and averages 33.9 yards per punt during the 2021 season.