Piedmont, ranked No. 2 in this week’s Alabama Sports Writers Association 3A poll, travels to meet No. 4 Leeds.
The Greenwave moved up one place this week after Geraldine, No. 4 last week, lost at New Hope 21-13 and Leeds thrashed Thorsby 42-0.
Last year’s game at Piedmont was a defensive struggle with the Bulldogs emerging on top of a 7-0 score.
Piedmont coach Steve Smith called this year’s version of the Greenwave typical of the Leeds teams Piedmont has faced since the 2008 season, “a lot of good size and speed all over the field.”
Tadarryl Marshall, who started at quarterback last year as a freshman, returns as does classmate Tre Nation, last year’s starter at tailback. Leeds has added transfer Tyler Wright at running back. Wide receivers Jacoby Lockhart and Jermaine Johnson, both juniors, also caught Smith’s eye as deep threats in the passing game.
“They’re very deep at the skill positions, probably the deepest that I can remember them at the skill positions,” Smith said.
Smith said Leeds still favors the ‘I’ formation and a grind-it-out style on offense but will also show shotgun and pistol formations.
“They’re throwing the ball a good bit more than what we’re really accustomed to see Leeds throw it because they’ve got a guy who can really throw it and they‘ve got some receivers that can go get it,” Smith said.
Piedmont’s 55-7 win over visiting Cleveland last week kept the Bulldogs undefeated at 4-0 overall and improved their Region 5 record to 3-0. It would be difficult to imagine a more devastating first half of football as the Bulldogs led 55-0 when the bands performed.
“I was real pleased with the way we hit them the other night,” Smith said Tuesday. “We had some nice licks the other night that knocked the ball loose. Defensively, we created five turnovers in the first half.”
Junior safety Tyler Lusk got the first turnover with an interception. Sophomore defensive back Bayley Blanchard contributed not one but two interceptions, each leading to a short field and a two-play scoring drive. Linebacker Taylor Hayes, a freshman, jarred the ball loose on a kickoff return and senior Jaret Prater fielded the pigskin like a shortstop on a routine grounder and returned the ball for a score. The fifth turnover, a fumble caused by freshman Easton Kirk and recovered by junior Dreek Thompson with 3:37 left in the first half, was the only one that didn’t lead to Piedmont points. By that time, it was already 55-0.
Cleveland was hampered by the absence of starting quarterback Peyton Gilliland, nursing injuries suffered the previous week in a win over Ashville, but it’s unlikely that AJ McCarron or Johnny Manziel could have carried the Panthers past the Bulldogs Friday night. Everything Piedmont did on offense in the first half worked and most of it worked immediately.
“It was really hard to get a good feel for our offense the other night. We were on the field so few plays,” Smith said, notng that the starting offense was credited with 20 snaps.
“A lot of the possessions that we had were one- or two-play possessions,” Smith added. “That’s a plus. I’m tickled that we were able to have the success that we had. We didn’t get into any kind of offensive flow, wasn’t a lot of setting up one thing with something else. It was pretty much quick strike.” Cleveland won the opening coin toss and elected to defer to the second half. Darnell Jackson returned the kickoff 34 yards to the Piedmont 37-yard line and six plays later quarterback Ty Sparks threw short to Denard Spears and Spears scored from 20 yards out. Exavyer Jackson’s kick made it 7-0 with 8:41 remaining in the first quarter.
The Bulldogs got a quick three-and-out and Spears returned the ensuing punt 78 yards for a second score. Jackson’s kick was wide, leaving the score 13-0 at 6:56 of the first. An exchange of possessions led to Lusk’s interception at the Piedmont 23. Lusk stayed in the game at quarterback and capped a five-play drive with a short pass to C.J Savage that Savage took 38 yards and across the goal line. This time it was Kirk’s turn at extra points and his kick made it 20-0 at 2:13 of the first. Blanchard’s first pick came with 38 seconds still to play in the first quarter and put Piedmont in business at the Cleveland 35. Sparks passed to Chase Keener for 27 yards on first down. Thompson’s 8-yard run then made it 26-0 with six seconds to spare in the first. A 2-point conversion attempt off a fake went awry.
Cleveland’s second quarter started with a bad snap into the end zone on a punt attempt that the punter kicked through the back of the end zone for a safety. Thompson took the free kick 22 yards to the Piedmont 46. On the first snap, Lusk found Cody Daughtry crossing over the middle and Daughtry outran the secondary for a 54-yard score. Kirk’s kick upped the score to 35-0.
Blanchard got a lengthy return on his second interception and Piedmont’s offense started at the Cleveland 31. An 18-yard gain by Thompson set up Darnell Jackson’s 13-yard scoring run. At the 5, Jackson left a Cleveland defender grasping at thin air. Kirk was good again and it was 42-0 with 9:21 still to play in the second quarter. The kickoff brought Hayes’ hit and Prater’s 14-yard fumble recovery score. Kirk’s boot was wide left this time.
Ahead 48-0, Piedmont inserted its second defensive unit. Cleveland moved to a first-and-goal at the Piedmont 2 then failed to score, turning the ball over on downs at the Piedmont 6.
“Our second group came in and had a good goal line stand right before the half. That was something we were real proud of,” Smith said.
On offense, the Bulldogs inserted Prater and Neonta Alexander, each a starter at linebacker, as running backs. Alexander picked up nine yards on first down. On second-and-1, Prater started inside then bounced outside at left end and scored on an 85-yard run. Exavyer Jackson’s kick completed the scoring with 3:37 still left before intermission.
Prater’s one carry made him the night’s rushing leader. Thompson ended with 50 yards. Darnell Jackson had 27. Austin Brazier gained 26 yards for the reserves in the second half and Couy Taylor picked up 20 second-half yards. No Piedmont starter played in the second half.
Sparks was 3-for-5 passing for 52 yards. Lusk was 4-for-4 for 94 yards. Spears had the only two-catch game, good for 25 yards.
Alexander led the defense with eight tackles. Keener, Blanchard, Dalton Barber and Payton Young, seeing his first action after a pre-season injury, each made seven tackles. Young’s included a quarterback sack and two other tackles for loss.
Hayes had six stops including a sack. Thompson, Exavyer Jackson and Chase Bobbitt each recorded five tackles. Easton Kirk, Tyler Lucas and Prater had four tackles apiece. Daughtry and Colton Donaldson each made three tackles. Donaldson’s included a sack. Ryan Kirk, Tre Reese, Jacob Clark, Jordan Buttram and Brazier each had two tackles. Alexander, Reese and Savage each broke up a pass.