“I thought that defensively we played really well,” Piedmont coach Steve Smith said. “Our defense was in some bad situations the first two times they took the field.”
Jacksonville junior Sid Thurman created the first problem when he returned the opening kickoff from the goal line to the Piedmont 34-yard line.
A 14-yard run by senior running back Dominique Thomas took the Eagles to a first down at the 17. At that point, Piedmont stiffened and a 40-yard field goal attempt on fourth down missed left.
Piedmont turned the ball over on downs at the Jacksonville 47 on its initial possession. A pass from quarterback Jackson Bell to Nick Gangwer for 18 yards picked up a first down. Two carries by Thomas netted 9 yards but on third-and-one, Exavyer Jackson meet Thomas in the backfield for a 2-yard loss. Mason Tompkins followed with a 36-yard field goal and Jacksonville led 3-0 with 3:57 left in the first quarter.
The Bulldogs moved 74 yards in eight plays for their first score. Junior Tyler Lusk hit split end Cody Daughtry in the end zone from 7 yards out with 1:56 to go in the half. Completions of 28 yards to Denard Spears and 14 yards to Dreek Thompson sparked the drive and freshman Taylor Hayes ran a third-down quarterback keeper for 7 yards and a first down at the Jacksonville 17. Freshman Easton Kirk, who was 3-for-4 on extra points, made it 7-3.
Jacksonville went three-and-out and Piedmont’s two-minute offense needed fewer than 40 seconds to cover 59 yards. Lusk found C.J. Savage alone down the home sideline for a 43-yard scoring completion with 17.6 seconds left, making the halftime score 13-3.
Three minutes into the third quarter, Piedmont got a safety. On the ensuing free kick, Darnell Jackson fielded the ball on a bounce and sped 63 yards for the Bulldogs’ third touchdown.
The final score came with 3:14 remaining in the third on a 26-yard run by Jaret Prater, who broke away from two Jacksonville defenders near the 15 and bulled his way into the end zone.
Jacksonville coach Clint Smith said his team played well both offensively and defensively through most of the first half but that Piedmont’s touchdown late in the second quarter wrested the game’s momentum away from the Eagles.
“A lot of good things in the first half,” Smith said. “We’ve just got to learn how to change that momentum when we need to. When things start going bad, we’ve got to learn how to fight that.”