BROOKLET — No matter what Southeast Bulloch does in tonight’s game against Appling County in Baxley, the Yellow Jackets know that they’re headed to the Class AAA state playoffs.
The first place Pirates (7-2, 6-0 Region 1-AAA) are a tall order for the Jackets (7-1-1, 5-1), but a win — plus a little help from Brantley County — would make SEB a region champion for the first time since 1994.
The different possible combinations of wins and losses among SEB, Appling and Pierce County still means that the Jackets can finish anywhere from first through third in the final region standings. A first or second place finish will allow SEB to host its first round playoff game while a third place finish will send the Jackets on the road to play the No. 2 team out of Region 3-AAA.
There is still plenty of work for the Jackets to do, but it’s remarkable to think that a program that went 12-58 from 2006-2012 is now just one victory away from a possible region championship.
“We’re definitely proud of where we’ve gotten,” SEB coach Pat Collins said. “At the same time, the guys from the first few years also need to be recognized. They set the tone for what we want to do and that consistency is a big part of why our juniors and seniors are succeeding this season.”
If the Jackets want to topple the Pirates, defense will be crucial. Appling County is unbeaten since dropping its first two games of the season and has put up no fewer than 38 points during its streak.
The SEB defensive line has been solid for most of the season, but the Pirates’ team speed will be a big challenge for the Jackets’ linebackers and secondary. Leading tacklers Isaiah Francois and Simba Fields will have to be on their toes to cover large areas while Justin Youmans and Keagan Carter — with their combined six interceptions — need to keep Pirate receivers in front of them.
“Any coach who’s gone up against Appling can tell you that they always have speed,” Collins said. “We can’t worry about how fast they are because we can’t change that. What we’re focusing on is taking terrific angles on defense and concentrating on how we need to hit and tackle.”
If SEB can slow down Appling dual threat quarterback Vernon Dasher and RB/WR Justin Moore, it will turn to its dependable ground game to put points on the board.
The Yellow Jackets rarely pull out trick plays and they certainly don’t throw the ball all around the field. That said, Collins takes exception to anyone who would label the offense as boring or vanilla.
“Don’t try to tell me that our guys on the line aren’t high-flying,” Collins said. “We might run our offense a little differently than others, but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t getting after it. We’ve had a dependable running game all season and that speaks to good running backs and a line that will fly around the field looking for their blocks.”
The line has been finding plenty of those blocks to pick up as senior running back Tyler Epps remains in the top-10 in rushing yards throughout all six GHSA classifications. Epps has accounted for 21 of the Jackets’ 33 total touchdowns this season and has scored in each of SEB’s last eight games.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.