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Undefeated Jackets visit Pierce County

SE Bulloch (4-0-1, 2-0) at Pierce County (5-1, 2-1)
7:30 p.m., Today

    BROOKLET — The Southeast Bulloch Yellow Jackets made it through the first half of their season with an unbeaten record, but a big challenge awaits tonight.
    The Jackets (4-0-1, 2-0 Region 1-AAA) travel to Blackshear this evening for a showdown against defending region champion Pierce County (5-1, 2-1).
    The Bears stormed into Brooklet to claim a 33-7 victory last season. SEB doesn’t have the benefit of a home field tonight, but it hits the road as a team that is more experienced and better prepared to take down a top opponent than any Jacket squad in recent memory.
    “We’re pleased with where we are right now, but the destination is always changing,” SEB coach Pat Collins said. “We feel good to still be undefeated, but Pierce County is going to be a very tough game.”
    If the Jackets are looking to notch the upset over the Bears — who were in the Class AAA top-10 before a loss to Appling County last week — they’ll have to be sound in executing their game plan.
    Southeast Bulloch doesn’t look to win with flair. Tyler Epps ranks in the top 20 throughout all of Georgia in rushing yards with 824, but the Jacket offense isn’t rife with huge playmakers. Epps leads a Wing-T attack that is also helped along by Antonio McMillan — who may be limited tonight due to an ankle injury.
    Quarterback Cole Carter has improved his passing stats this season, but the SEB air attack serves mainly as an occasional change of pace.
    “We have some guys banged up, but we expect whoever is in there to give us a quality effort,” Collins said. “We’ve taken a negative and turned it into a positive before. That has strengthened our team, so even with adversity, we go into this game expecting to win.”
    From there, the Jackets look to a defense that has allowed a few yards, but that has vastly improved in limiting big plays and has had a knack for coming up with turnovers and big stops at opportune moments.   
    The SEB defense will get its biggest test of the season so far tonight as it tries to find an answer for Pierce County quarterback Tyler Harris.
    Harris ranks second among all Georgia quarterbacks with 1,641 passing yards and recently announced a verbal commitment to play for Southern Methodist University next season. A great effort from the SEB defensive line will be required to keep Harris — who isn’t a big scrambler — from getting too comfortable in the pocket and delivering strikes.
    “We saw what (Harris) can do last year,” Collins said. “We know that no matter what we do, he’s got the talent to make plays. The key is to limit big plays and try to put ourselves in favorable situations.”
    If SEB can dig out a win, the Jackets will be in a favorable situation unseen in Brooklet for over a decade. Southeast Bulloch hasn’t sent a football team to the state playoffs since 2003, but a 3-0 start in region play would likely put the Jackets just one win away from laying claim to one of the four state playoff bids coming out of Region 1-AAA.

    Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.