HASTINGS — One play was all it took for the Pierce offense to set the tone Friday night.
When power back Brett Tinker put his head down and bulled his way over an Adams Central defender on his way to a 15-yard gain on the Bluejays' first offensive snap, that's when classmate Carson Oestreich knew his team was on to something special.
“Right off the get-go, when we hit them in the mouth right on the first play (of the game on offense),” Oestreich said. “That's what coach always tells us. We keep swinging till the end of the game.”
Like a championship boxer Oestreich referenced, Pierce pounded and powered its way all over Adams Central, scoring on six straight possessions to make its return to Memorial Stadium for the Class C1 championship game with a 54-14 statement win in Friday's semifinal at a packed Patriot Field just a few miles west of here.
It was a moment complete with coach Mark Brahmer hollering, “How 'bout them Bluejays?” as the team started its traditional singing of the school song after games.
“You get attached to these kids and you fall in love with them,” Brahmer said. “I love every single one of them like they're my sons. I've got 68 sons, and I'm just really proud of the effort that they've shown ... and they've fought through some adverse situations this year. We were beat up earlier in the year, and we had guys step up and do the job and keep the boat going.”
It's the first time Pierce has made it to the championship game since 2010. The Bluejays had reached Memorial Stadium five times in a span of 11 seasons, including back-to-back Class C1 titles in 2007 and 2008.
“It's pretty amazing. It's a dream come true,” Oestreich said. “That's what we've dreamed about. All of us as little kids have dreamed about this moment.”
A large contingent of Pierce faithful watched as the fourth-seeded Bluejays hit the road for the second straight week, this time pounding the host and top-seeded Patriots in what had been billed as a battle of undefeated teams. Adams Central had outscored its first two playoff opponents 81-0 as part of three straight shutouts entering the night, but Pierce took care of that in just six offensive plays.
Oestreich finished with a game-high 203 rushing yards on 19 carries, including touchdowns of 3 and 2 yards in the first half, along with scoring bursts of 6, 3 and 4 yards in the second half.
“I've got to give all the credit to the o-linemen,” Oestreich said. “The did an amazing job out there tonight.”
Tinker wasn't far behind, bulldozing his way to 143 yards on a team-best 27 carries.
“That's the best offensive line in the state right there,” Tinker said. “They're incredible. Coach Brahmer does a great job with them. He teaches them well, and we're really fundamentally sound.”
As it has all season, Pierce relied once again on its run game to deliver a playoff victory. On Friday night, the Bluejays snapped the ball 68 times on offense. On 67 of those plays, Pierce ran the football — finishing with 481 yards as a team and averaging nearly 7.2 yards per attempt.
“We've challenged our guys the last two weeks, having to go on the road,” Brahmer said. “We just told them that the most physical team, the most determined team is going to be the team that probably comes out on top in this ballgame.
“We've got a motley crew of guys,” Brahmer said. “Really, what matters is what you've got between your breastbone and your backbone. If you play with heart, and that starts in practice, if you can carry that over into a ballgame, you've got a shot to be a successful football player and a successful football team.”
What may have been even more impressive is what Pierce did on the opposite side of the ball.
Entering the night, Adams Central quarterback Evan Johnson had thrown for 2,071 yards and 20 touchdowns with just three interceptions. The senior was held to 11 of 28 passing for 163 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. But of those 163 yards, 98 of them came on the two touchdown passes in the second half — after Pierce had already taken a 26-0 lead.
“We speculated that they had a timing offense, so we tried to ghost a couple of different coverages and just try to mess up his timing,” Tinker said.
Additionally, senior running back Gabe Conant — who had rushed for 1,536 yards entering Friday — was limited to 82 yards on 17 carries. Outside of its two scoring plays, Adams Central was held to 142 yards of offense for the entire game.
THE ONLY TIME it seemed the momentum might change was in the first quarter, after Pierce was stopped for no gain at the Adams Central 22 on fourth down to end a 13-play drive. But on the next snap, Johnson fumbled, and Colby Richart recovered for the Bluejays with 2 minutes, 17 seconds left in the quarter. On the final play of the quarter, Oestreich burst through to cap the 25-yard drive with a touchdown and a 12-0 lead.
That started a stretch of six straight scoring drives for the Bluejays, not including a kneel-down on the final play of the first half for a 20-0 advantage at the break.
Pierce put the game out of reach in the third quarter, starting with an eight-play, 77-yard drive that took 3:07. Adams Central then got on the board with a 63-yard screen pass, catch and run from Johnson to Conant.
It appeared Adams Central might have forced a three-and-out on Pierce's next possession, but quarterback Dalton Freeman's hard count drew an offsides penalty on fourth-and-1 at his own 29. Four of the next five plays were runs of 16, 11, 22 and 11 yards, setting up Tinker's short touchdown run. The Bluejays then forced an incomplete pass on fourth down to end the Patriots' next drive, and it took Pierce just three plays to pad its lead for a 40-7 advantage with 1:24 left in the third quarter.
The knockout blows came early in the fourth, when Oestreich punctuated a 35-yard scoring drive following a Jake Edins interception of Johnson. On the next offensive snap, Johnson's bobbled snap led to David Dale scooping up the ball and barreling in for a 4-yard touchdown, and the Pierce celebration was imminent with a 54-7 lead and nearly nine minutes left.
“This is the best feeling in the world,” Tinker said. “I couldn't imagine it with any other team. I love my team. This is awesome.”
Class C1 semifinal
Pierce (12-0) 12 8 20 14— 54
Adams Central (11-1) 0 0 7 7 — 14
PIE: Carson Oestreich 3 run (PAT failed), 8:56.
PIE: Oestreich 2 run (PAT failed), 0:00.
PIE: Brett Tinker 1 run (Ben Brahmer pass from Dalton Freeman), 4:34.
PIE: Oestreich 6 run (PAT failed), 8:53.
AC: Gabe Conant 63 pass from Evan Johnson (Tyler Slechta kick), 8:10.
PIE: Tinker 3 run (PAT failed), 4:06.
PIE: Oestreich 3 run (Oestreich run), 1:24.
PIE: Oestreich 4 run (Chaden Roth kick), 9:04.
PIE: David Dale 4 fumble return (Roth kick), 8:56.
AC: Leif Spady 35 pass from Johnson (Slechta kick), 4:11.