Prep showdown: Saks’ Miller: We’re a little better than last year
by Brandon Miller
Oct 14, 2013 | 2474 views |  0 comments | 24 24 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Piedmont’s Sarandon Dunbar (22) gets tripped up by Saks’ Tre Smith (7) in the 2011 game between the two teams. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star/file)
Piedmont’s Sarandon Dunbar (22) gets tripped up by Saks’ Tre Smith (7) in the 2011 game between the two teams. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star/file)
SAKS — There’s no doubt Saks’ 41-7 loss to Piedmont last season is weighing on the Wildcats’ minds this week.

But Friday night’s rematch with the Bulldogs has bigger stakes than just revenge, and Saks appears much better prepared for this championship showdown than it was a year ago.

The numbers show as much as Saks has posted a 7-0 mark, matching Piedmont’s record.

Entering the Week 7 game last year with the Class 3A, Region 5 championship on the line, Saks was averaging 25.6 points a game and allowing 13.9 points.

This season, the Wildcats enter Friday night’s region championship showdown averaging 44.3 points a game and allowing 11.3 points.

“We’re a little better than we were last year,” Saks coach Jonathan Miller said.

Added Miller: “We had a young team last year and we’ve been growing up a little bit and we’re bigger and stronger.”

The Wildcats have made several changes on offense, most notably moving Tre Smith from wide receiver to quarterback. Smith’s dual-threat athleticism, along with the rushing games of Davontae Young and Calvin Figueroa, has allowed Saks to score at least 37 points in every game this season.

“Coach Miller moving Tre to quarterback was probably one of the most brilliant coaching moves I’ve seen in a long time,” Piedmont coach Steve Smith said. “He was dangerous last year, but now with Tre having the ball every play, he’s a threat every play.

“But the thing people don’t understand is Tre isn’t a good athlete playing quarterback, he’s a good athlete that knows how to play quarterback.”

Defensively, Miller has most of the same faces back from last season, returning eight starters. The experienced lineup has produced results. Saks has limited four teams to seven points or less and has not allowed more than 28 points in a game.

Even so, Miller still knows the first seven weeks of the season are out the window when the Wildcats take the field Friday night.

“Piedmont is still Piedmont,” Miller said. “They’re really good and don’t have any weaknesses. They’re well-coached on defense and scoring more than 50 points a game on offense. It’s a tough, tough game for us to game plan for.”

Saks is having quite a journey this season. The Wildcats have won their first seven games for the first time since 1971. Even the 1996 state runner-up team didn’t do that.

Also, Saks has moved up to No. 7 in the state rankings, which is the highest the school has been since 1997.

Defeating second-ranked Piedmont on Friday night would go down as a true milestone, especially as the Bulldogs are riding a streak of 30 straight regular-season victories. Miller said he believes this year’s Bulldogs are better than last year, and the 2012 Piedmont team spent the final eight weeks of the regular season ranked No. 1.

“Special teams, offensively and defensively they’re very, very solid,” Miller said. “They have a ton of skill guys that are fast and you hold your breath every time they touch the ball because they can make a lot of things happen.

“They’re probably more explosive on offense this year than they’ve been. Defensively, they’re always good. It’s a challenge, but it’s one that we’re looking forward to.”

Brandon Miller covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575 or follow him on Twitter @bmiller_star.
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