After a five-plus hour bus ride the No. 4 Lions (5-5) will take on No. 1 seeded and 10th ranked Pierce County in the opening round of the Class AAA playoffs on Friday night at 7:30 p.m.
The Bears (9-1) won the Region 1-AAA title behind a high powered offense led by quarterback Tyler Harris. The junior is a four-star recruit already getting looks from the likes of Auburn, Florida, Florida State and Georgia. The scoring average of almost 40 points a game has a lot to do with the man leading it.
"He's a very good player. He does a great job of managing that offense and offensively they're a very good football team. That has a lot to do with that young man. He has a good supporting cast and they're very efficient on offense. He's an outstanding player," Central coach Grant Chesnut said.
It's not only the coaching staff that has noticed the offensive ability either.
"It's going to be a good matchup. They've got a great team. From what we've seen they've got a quarterback that can throw the ball, really zoom it, and a handful of good receivers. I'm really looking forward to testing our skills against them. Whoever comes out on top comes out on top. I just know it's a privileged to be a senior in the playoffs," Lion defensive back/wing back Stephon O'Neal said.
As potent as the Pierce County offense is, its defense is almost just as stingy. The Bears have allowed just 8.8 points in the last four weeks and just over 20 points through the entire year — most of those coming in a 44-41 loss against Swainsboro.
"They've got some size up front. Their three down linemen are good players, their linebackers do a good job in the 3-5 defense, like ourselves. It's key for the linebackers to play downhill and their guys do a good job of that. Their secondary might be the most impressive thing, their safety and two corners. As you would expect, they play the pass very well. They're very athletic guys and they're never really out of position," Chesnut said.
There's not one team the Lions have played this season that Chesnut would compare the Bears to from top to bottom. There are some similarities in aspects, but there are some parts — the offense especially — that is a whole new animal.
"Personnel-wise maybe a little like Callaway up front. Scheme-wise they're that spread team. I don't know that we've seen a true, pure spread team this year as far as schemes. We've seen several 3-5 [defense] teams," Chesnut said.
The main thing the second-year coach sees in Pierce County is a little bit of his own team.
The Bears went 2-8 for back-to-back seasons before an 8-3 record and a trip to the playoffs last year under new coach Sean Pender. Now Pierce County has two straight region titles.
"In watching their film, we were able to get some film on them from last year, they were like us last year. They were young and you can see the dramatic change in their bodies compared to this year, but also their execution. That's the big thing you notice. They're a junior led football team and those juniors played as sophomores. You do see that experience and that's a credit to them," Chesnut said.
"There are some similarities in how their team has matured. They're a well-coached team as you would expect to find in the playoffs."