Last week, Perry Central High School put the finishing touches on one of the more successful football regular seasons in school history.
Tonight, the Bulldogs will look for that success to continue on a completely different stage.
“We’ve had a fun journey,” Perry Central Chip Bilderback said. “Looking back on it, we really haven’t had a chance to look back on what we’ve accomplished. We sat there and talked about it for a second, but (now), it’s a new day.”
Perry Central (9-1), whose lone loss at Collins on Oct. 20 meant a runner-up finish and the second seed in Region 8-2A, will host Madison St. Joseph Catholic High School at 7 p.m. in the opening round of the Class 2A playoffs.
The Bruins (7-4) finished in a three-way tie for first in Region 6-2A, but wound up as the region’s third seed on tiebreakers after a 69-17 loss to Pisgah High School in the regular-season finale.
“Any time you get a chance to compete in postseason, it’s exciting for our kids,” Madison St. Joseph coach Todd Lott said. “I’m excited about the opportunity because they know they didn’t play well. They know they didn’t show up and I think they’re embarrassed by that game, and they should be, because it was awful.
“But you just have to take it one day at a time, one game, one practice, one rep at a time. I think they are excited to have the opportunity to play again.”
The Bruins have been balanced on offense, averaging 194.6 yards passing and 170 yards rushing. Senior quarterback Reed Collins has thrown for 1,708 yards and 17 touchdowns with just four interceptions in 145 pass attempts.
Senior Hayden Brice has rushed for 983 yards and nine touchdowns and has caught 21 passes for 413 yards and seven touchdowns. Junior Chandler Thornhill has run for 463 yards and four scores.
Senior Trey Frierson has 42 catches for 801 yards and 10 touchdowns and junior Kiland Harrison has caught 41 passes for 876 yards and eight scores.
Frierson and Brice double as on defense, with Frierson intercepting four passes, breaking up three more and recovering two fumbles, taking one back for a touchdown. Brice has an interception return for a score. Sophomore linebacker leads the Bruins with 65 tackles, including a sack. He also has an interception and fumble recovery.
“They’re a senior-laden football team, kind of a lot like us,” Bilderback said. “They’re strong on the defensive line. They have big size on the offensive line and they have three, offensive skill players (Brice, Frierson, Harrison) who at any point in the game can take it to the house.
“Our job, defensively, is to try and limit their big plays, and offensively, I like our matchup.”
Perry Central has relied on the production of senior quarterback Tijuane Bolton and senior running back Mckail Sumrall all season with junior running back Derrick Hartfield and sophomore running back Chris Sumrall also stepping up.
“Our kids, they just love competing, they love playing this game of football,” Bilderback said. “We play a physical brand of football, and they just come out and get after it. This is about the 11th, 12th week of practicing during the season, and this week was really like a first week of the season.
“Our kids are excited. They know it’s a new season, and we feel like we have as good an opportunity as anyone. So there’s really no pressure. Just come out and play like we practice and we feel like we’ll be just fine.”
Lott said he has been impressed by what he’s seen on tape.
“The biggest thing that stands out is that they’re very well coached,” Lott said. “They’re a very disciplined football team. I’m just very impressed with the way they execute. They have a very athletic quarterback, and of course, their tailbacks are very athletic, a lot of speed. They’re big up front.
“I know we have our work cut out for us, that’s for sure.”
The winner of tonight’s game will take on the winner of tonight’s Bogue Chitto-Taylorsville first-round game.
But Bilderback said he hasn’t even looked at the playoff bracket.
“Our goal at the end of the week is to be 1-0, and that’s kind of been a theme we’ve had all year,” Bilderback said. “Every week, we want to be 1-0.
“Now, it’s the playoffs, and we’ve had a great week of preparation and I think our kids are excited to be at home in the playoffs. I think we’re ready to play. We’re ready to play football.”