Battle tested, Pierce County begins defense of its Region 1-AAA title when the Bears host neighboring Brantley County in Bearville on Friday night.
PCHS (4-2), which dropped two spots to No.5 in the latest Atlanta Journal-Constitution Top 10 poll, has won 14 consecutive region games since 2018, winning back-to-back region 2-AAA crowns (2018- 19) to accompany last year’s championship en route to a state title.
The game against the Herons (2-3) is the 39th in a series dating back to 1981. Pierce County have won the last 10 games with an average score of 46.4 to 13.3 building a 25 advantage. -13 in the series. PCHS has scored 48 points or better on seven occasions during its winning streak, including last year’s 49-7 victory at Caney Bay.
“The best way to describe Brantley County is to have a bunch of disjointed players playing from the first whistle to the final whistle,” said PCHS head coach Ryan Herring. “We just have to make sure we’re ready to play after two tough games… we can’t have a lull.
“Our guys have been heavily taxed against Fitzgerald and Rabun County over the past two weeks. Our job (the coaches) is not to burn the guys out this week and get them ready to go. “
The Bears enter after a tough 28-21 loss at home to top-class AA Rabun County. The Wildcats are one of four ranked enemies PCHS has faced this season.
Next, Class 6A, unranked, Brunswick (6-0) took advantage of a 20-13 season opener to jump into the polls and is now ranked No.5. PCHS has overtaken No 5 and now unranked Clinch County (1-4) 33-13 in the first of a three-game streak against ranked opponents. The Panthers faced the toughest schedule in Class A.
A 17-0 victory over Fitzgerald (5-1) now ranked second in class AA followed before the Bears fell by a touchdown against the Wildcats (5-1).
The Bears and Brantley County have a very similar offensive philosophy with two different patterns. Everyone wants to use ball control in attack with a slow tempo that shortens the game.
The Herons rely on their diffuse attack mingling in the pass with their ground attack. Brantley County averages 134.4 meters on the ground and 91.8 meters in the air for an average of 226.2 meters by Friday night.
“They (Herons) use a variety of formations ranging from triangle to spread,” Herring said. “They will run an inside zone, throw the ball on rollers to stay in the pocket.”
Second-year quarterback Kirkland Cannon is leading the offense. He completed 52 of 93 passes (56 percent) for 459 yards with five touchdowns and four interceptions.
The rushing offense is led by rookie Kendall Wright, who racked up 325 yards (5.3 per attempt). Wright amassed 14 yards in the BCHS 28-13 win over Frederica Academy.
Junior Kellon Middleton has 262 rushing yards (6.6 per attempt) and is second on the team in receptions with 14 catches and a total of 172 yards (12.3 per catch) and five combined touchdowns.
“They (the coaches) line up No 10 (Middleton) everywhere,” Herring said.
Seniors Quinton Walker and Brian Hiott also have two-digit reception numbers. Walker leads the team with 15 catches for 136 yards while Hiott has 13 receptions for 104 yards.
Brantley County uses a basic 3-5 defensive scheme moving to four- and five-man frontal looks.
“They (Herons) will line up in a lot of things,” Herring said. “We have to make sure we follow our blocking rules to account for the look we get. There are really many on that side of the ball.
The Herons are allowing 6.4 yards per carry and 198.2 yards per game rushing. Opponents threw for 90 yards per game for an average of 288.2 on Friday night. BCHS forced six turnovers with four fumble recoveries and two interceptions.
All-region center linebacker RJ Bryan leads the Herons with 57 tackles. Senior inside linebacker Ryan Ratliff and junior defensive back Joel Willis are next with 41 and 40 saves respectively. The junior outside linebacker follows with 34.