Seventh-ranked Pierce County renews old acquaintances this week.
It’s been 33 years since Claxton (1-0) and the Bears (2-0) have met on the gridiron. The two teams have not played since 1987. Both are one-time members of the old two-divisional Region 2-AA alignment.
The current Class A Region 3 Tigers, who beat Region 1-AAA member Tattnall County 28-16 in their season opener, enter off a bye week.
The Bears posted a second consecutive victory over a higher classification team blanking Class 5A Wayne County (1-1) 14-0 last week. The shutout of the Yellow Jackets was the first in the Ken Cribb era (36 games). It was the first time Wayne County had been shutout since September 3, 2016 when Valdosta notched a 28-0 victory.
“When you see a zero on the scoreboard after four quarters you are always pleased,” said PCHS head coach Ryan Herring, whose defense recorded its fifth shutout in the past 14 games.
PCHS has 11 shutouts during a 26-2 run the past two-plus seasons and 10 during a 22-game regular season winning streak.
Last Friday’s win followed a 31-10 home win over Class 6A Brunswick in the home opener.
“We’ve seen a lot of good athletes in our first two games,” said Herring. “I’m happy where we are at right now, but we’ve got to continue to get better. I can’t say enough about the effort of my players.”
Pierce County has won the last three meetings against Claxton to hold a 5-3 advantage. During the 1982 and 1983 seasons, PCHS and the Tigers split four games.
The Bears swept Claxton 11-6 and 20-0 in 1982, both in Bearville, the latter in the Region 2-AA championship game en route to a 12-1 record. PCHS was ranked fourth and the Tigers ninth in the second meeting.
The Tigers swept the 1983 match ups in “The Pecan Grove.” Claxton won 12-0 and 23-7, the second meeting in the region semifinals during an 11-1 campaign. Both teams were ranked in the first matchup with the Tigers fourth in the playoff tilt.
Claxton has reached double-figures in wins just once since 1983, that coming in 2001. PCHS has five such seasons in the past eight seasons.
Tony Welch enters his fourth season in the “Fruitcake Capital of the world” and ninth overall as a head coach with stints at Savannah’s Memorial Day and Savannah High. He is 16-17 leading the Tigers guiding his program to consecutive playoff appearances in each of the last two years.
Claxton is a junior-dominated team with 15 of the 42 players in that class. The Tigers have 11 seniors, 10 sophomores and six freshmen.
In the season opener, Claxton had six players combine for 204 yards averaging nearly eight yards a carry. Junior Robbie Lane (5-foot-8, 150 lbs.) led the way with 110 yards on nine carries. Senior Tykei Hines (5-7) and junior Johnofer Carter (5-10, 205) had rushing touchdowns.
Junior quarterback Hayden Morris completed 9-of-17 passes for 132 yards and two scores. Senior Karon Taylor (5-8, 165) caught two passes for 79 yards and a score with a long reception of 60 yards.
“They (Tigers) are going to run the ball,” said Herring. “They will get in the wing-T and spread you with a four-wide set. I expect to see a little bit of everything.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Claxton recorded nine tackles for loss and two quarterback sacks in its opener. Junior free safety Keylen Collins (5-11, 165) led the way with eight total tackles.
Hines (two tackles for loss), a defensive back, and Carter, a linebacker, followed with seven each. Senior cornerbacks Shakarie Denson (5-11, 160) and Cameron Aurthur (6-3; two tackles for loss) added six total tackles.
Senior defensive lineman Jermaine Young (6-2, 220) recorded a sack and was in on three tackles. Junior lineman Octavious Fields (6-3, 285), the biggest player on the team, and sophomore lineman Keyontae Ealey (6-foot, 230) had two tackles apiece. Fields had two tackles for a loss and Ealey one.
“It looks like they are in an odd-man front and will utilize some 3-3 stack,” Herring said. “They also look they have good speed. We may get a lot of looks on the defensive side.
“We did a good job of eating away at the clock against Wayne County. We still made a lot of mistakes that we’ve got to clean up, though.”
Pierce County gets its first bye of the season after the Claxton contest. The Bears will return to action October 2 when Clinch County visits.