Unbeaten Ware County Middle School scored twice in the opening two minutes en route to a 28-13 victory over previously unbeaten Pierce County Middle School in “The Pit.”

The Thursday, October 7 lightning-delayed victory in the South sub-conference finale gives the Gators (6-0) a home semifinal matchup with North sub-conference runner-up Martha Puckett.

PCMS (5-1) travels today (Wednesday, October 13) to Baxley to face North champion Appling County Middle School in a rematch of the season opener won by the Bears in the other semifinal pairing.

The Southeast Georgia Middle School Athletic Conference championship game is scheduled for Wednesday, October 20. A site will be determined after the conclusion of the semifinals.

Ware Middle’s front seven wrecked havoc on the Bears’ offense. The Gators dropped PCMS ball carriers 10 times behind the line of scrimmage for 52 yards in losses. WCMS also recovered three fumbles.

Besides the three turnovers and nearly one-third of their offensive snaps going for negative yardage, the Bears also shot themselves in the foot getting flagged nine times for 90 yards.

PCMS had a first-and-10 at the Gators’ 12 late in the second quarter trailing 20-0. Three consecutive holding penalties followed putting Pierce Middle in a first-and-42 back at its own 46. The half ended with a sack at midfield.

Ware Middle took control early with Ja’Londi O’Hara (14 carries, 129 yards) racing 27 yards for a touchdown on the fourth play of the game. PCMS stopped the two-point conversion leaving the Gators with a 6-0 lead.

“They came out and hit us in the mouth,” said head coach Shannon Batten. “We came out flat and nervous to say the least. After about a 30-minute lightning delay, we came out and settled in and played well the rest of the game.

“I was very pleased with our effort all night minus the first quarter. We kept fighting and showed lots of heart.”

The home team recovered an onsides kick at the Pierce Middle 49. Quarterback Slade Sweat (3-of-4, 77 yards) connected with Tayshawn Franklin behind the Bears’ secondary on the ensuing snap for the score. Jamir Boyd (five carries, 22 yards) ran in the two-point conversion pushing the margin to 14-0.

After forcing PCMS into a three-and-out on its next possession, the Gators moved 47 yards in three rapid plays to build a 20-0 lead late in the opening period.

Sweat hooked up with Boyd on a 33-yard pass completion on the first snap to get the drive started. Boyd would score two plays later with a four-yard run. The two-point conversion failed.

Pierce Middle finally broke through on the second play of the third quarter. Jah Evans (game-high 16 carries, game-high 178 yards) found a seam at right guard and outraced Gator defenders on a 62-yard gallop to the end zone. Kade Meeks split the uprights cutting the deficit to 20-7.

The Gators were in position to answer the touchdown with one of their own when disaster struck. A high snap on third-and-16 from the PCMS 20 was picked up by a Bear defender back out at the 40 and returned for apparant touchdown. Pierce Middle was called for holding nullifying the score.

“That was one of three touchdowns we had called back,” Batten said. “Unfortunately for us, all the penalties were from the Ware Middle side of the field.”

Ware Middle’s then defense rose to the occassion. After allowing a first down, the Gators stopped Pierce Middle with three tackles behind the line of scrimmage on the next four snaps.

The fourth-down denial gave Ware Middle the ball at the Bears’ 33. Alex Lacey (three carries, 30 yards) bolted 33 yards on the Gators’ first snap for the score with O’Hara tacking on the two-point conversion for a comfortable 28-7 lead.

PCMS needed one play after the ensuing kick to get the ball inside the Ware Middle 10. Evans scooted 44 yards down to the six with less than a minute to play in the third. The Bears fumbled the ball away on the next play.

Pierce Middle followed a defensive stand that ended with a punt with a game-ending 12-play, 53-yard scoring drive capped by Marquez Leggett’s (10 carries, 51 yards) one-yard plunge in the final seconds. The PAT was foiled by a bobble on the hold.