The atmosphere surrounding the football program at Long County is perhaps at an all-time high.
Don’t expect to see the same ole’ Blue Tide (4-4 overall, 1-1 Region 1-AAA) Friday night when fifth-ranked Pierce County (5-2, 1-0) takes the field at Jaycee Stadium in Ludowici.
Long County has all but clinched its first-ever state playoff berth in its 24-year history after recording a 28-19 victory last week at Brantley County. The Blue Tide still have Tattnall County remaining on their schedule while Brantley County gets Tattnall County and Appling County in its final two region games.
The fourth win of the season doubled the Blue Tide’s victory total from the previous five seasons (2-45-2) combined. They are one win away from tying the school record of five wins set in 2012 — the lone non-losing season since reinstating football in 2002.
“From what I have seen on film,” said PCHS head coach Ryan Herring, “they (Blue Tide) are more athletic than I’ve seen in previous years. They have more speed, they are agressive and they love to run and hit you on the defensive side of the ball. I’m very impressed looking at the film.”
The Bears will put three streaks on the line in the matchup. PCHS is 11-0 in all-time meetings with the Blue Tide with five consecutive shutouts winning by an average score of 45-0. Pierce County has also won 15 consecutive region games.
Long County runs a unique offensive scheme under first-year head coach Mike Pfiester — a power-T with a two-tight end alignment and with the offensive linemen foot-to-foot.
Sophomore Ahmari Douglas (5-foot-10, 185 lbs.) is the leading rusher for the Blue Tide having accumulated 844 yards on 111 carries (7.6 per attempt) with eight touchdowns. He has four 100-yard rushing games with a season-best 199 against Brantley County.
Three other backs have also totaled over 100 yards on the season. Junior Joe Saddler (5-11, 155) and seniors Josiah Ansorena-Smith (5-6, 160) and senior Tony Phillips (5-10, 185) all contribute to the ground game that averages 5.1 yards per attempt. Long County throws the ball less than PCHS with 19 passes through eight games.
“This is going to be tough to play against,” said Herring, “because it is something you just done see anymore. It’s what I call a split-flow with some mis-direction. You have to honor the fullback trap and hard dive, but then the quarterback will fake the fullback and give the ball to the outside T-backs on off-tackle leads.
“The key for us is maintaining the line of scrimmage. Our linebackers also have to do a good job of staying home and then reacting to the ball. We’ve got to be able to limit the yardage and get off the field with third down stops.”
Pierce County’s run defense is allowing 3.1 yards per attempt and 76.1 per game. Six of the first seven opponents have been held to 185 yards or less of total offense.
The Bears, who are allowing 9.6 points per game with three shutouts, have held four of seven teams to 78 yards or less rushing.
PCHS also has 63 tackles behind the line of scrimmage to go along with 25 sacks and 50 hurries by quarterbacks. Pierce County has forced eight turnovers with five interceptions and three fumble recoveries and are plus-four in the turnover margin.
Pierce County will operate against a base 3-3 defensive alignment with man-to-man coverage out on the perimeter.
“They (Blue Tide) are not scared to play man coverage and put eight in the box,” said Herring. “They will bring blitzes from everywhere. I’m impressed with just how much more physical they are on that side of the ball.
“We’ve got to get a hat on a hat with our blocking scheme. If we can do that then we have a chance to break off a big play.”
Pierce County’s ground game is led by senior Daytin Baker, who has a team-high 308 yards. Donelius Johnson (247 yards), Danarius Johnson (200) and junior D.J. Bell (123) all rotate in to take snaps in PCHS’s unique offensive scheme.
When PCHS does pass, the play-action passing attack is averaging 35.4 yards per completion (nine) with five touchdowns. All five receivers are averaging better than 24 yards per catch.