Like many before him, Southeast Bulloch head coach Jared Zito was indoctrinated to the fact that the Yellow Jackets haven’t won a state playoff game since capturing the state title in 1973.
Zito quickly instilled in his players a philosophy of “return to glory” and Friday the Jackets will get their chance as they host Long County to open the Class AAA state playoffs.
“I told the players 9-1 is great and we have done lots of great things but the reality is we haven’t done anything that anyone else at Southeast Bulloch has done,” said Zito. “Even the last three years our school has been to the state. This team wants to set a legacy that is different, and to do that they have to be the team to get past that first round.
“Our RTG (return to glory) philosophy is really about returning to the standard, the culture and everything we do,” said Zito. “It is also about winning that first state playoff game since 1973 and we have that chance Friday.”
Some of the Yellow Jacket players' parents weren’t even born the last time Southeast Bulloch won a state playoff game and the drought is definitely something the plasters are aware of.
“I feel like Southeast Bulloch has always had talent,” said Yellow Jacket lineman Terry Mikell. “Even when I was a little kid and came to games, I knew we had good players. What I think sets us apart is not only do we have the talent, but we also work so well together. We are a well-coached team and I feel we listen to our coaches and I feel like we can break the streak Friday.”
Zito also has confidence in his players.
“I believe our guys have bought into our culture and I believe we have a really good team,” said Zito. “I think these guys are ready to take that next step. We have gotten better and better as the year has gone on, and after that Liberty County loss I feel like we took a huge step in the right direction. We could have gone one of two ways after the Liberty loss so the credit goes to the team and coaches for pulling everyone together.”
While the Yellow Jackets haven’t won a state playoff game since 1973, they have won four region championships and have over a dozen trips to the state playoffs in that span. Friday’s opponent will be making its first ever appearance in the postseason.
The Long County Blue Tide started playing football in 1984 and did away with the program two years later. They played one season in 1990 going, 0-6 before finally bringing football back for good in 2002. For 23 years they not only failed to make the playoffs, but they failed to have a record over .500.
This year’s mark of 5-5 ties the all-time best record from back in 2012 under former Yellow Jacket head coach Ron Flott and current LCHS head coach Mark Pfiester has not only gotten them in the state playoffs with that record but was also able to earn the No. 3 seed out of Region 1-AAA.
“I know they are really excited about playing in their first ever state playoff game,” said Zito. “I have known coach Pfiester since he coached at North Atlanta and he does a really good job. They are not traditional on offense as they have two tight ends and three backs. They run a ball-controlled offense and try to eat up the clock and keep your offense on the sidelines.”
The Blue Tide come from a region with only five teams and they were able to win a couple close games over Brantley County and Tattnall County but were roughed up by Appling County 41-8 and Pierce County 44-6. They average 21 points per game and have given up over 29 points per contest.
“To win this game we have to be really good on defense on first down,” said Zito. “Putting them behind the chains is so important. If we let them go on long drives that will chew up the clock and put a lot of pressure on our offense. Their number one play is trap and we have to stop that. On offense we have to score and score early and try to force them to do things they don’t like on offense.”
The Yellow Jackets and Blue Tide are set for a 7:30 p.m. start Friday at Fred Shaver Field.