As the No. 2 team in Region 5, Piedmont will entertain Region 7 No. 3 Winfield on November 8 in the opening round of the Class 3A playoffs. Winfield, currently 5-4, 5-2, took third in the Pirates’ region by defeating No. 4 Good Hope (6-3, 5-2) last week 45-22.
Before it is playoff time, one more game remains on Piedmont’s regular-season schedule. Class 4A Lincoln comes to Piedmont Friday.
The Bulldogs want to keep the momentum they gained with their win at Weaver. Lincoln started slowly, going 0-3. The Golden Bears then appeared to turn the corner for first-year head coach Brad Wallace by winning four of their next five games, all region victories. The only loss in that run came against Etowah by a 28-21 margin.
Last week’s 21-14 loss to a shorthanded Cleburne County team was a step backward for Lincoln and Wallace is certain to have his team primed for a victory in Piedmont, a victory that would keep the Bears from limping into the Class 4A playoffs.
“No doubt, a very athletic team,” Piedmont coach Steve Smith said of Lincoln. “They’ve got great size on the defensive front. The quarterback (Chance Byrd) is equally good running and throwing. He’s turning into a much better running quarterback this year than he was last year.”
Byrd has plenty of help on the ground from junior Jamario Howard and seniors Jalen Turner and Devante’ Peeler. When Byrd throws, Zay Caldwell has been a favorite target. On the lines, both senior Shedrick Thomas and junior Jaunta’vius Johnson are very large human beings. In short-yardage situations, Johnson enters the backfield and is difficult to wrestle to the turf.
The Bears, fourth in their region, bring a 4-5 overall record and 4-3 region mark to Piedmont.
Lost in the Bulldogs’ eight-touchdown offensive explosion against Weaver was the stellar play of Piedmont’s defense. A series of injuries suffered against Saks required the Bulldogs to rework the defensive unit almost top to bottom.
Linemen Exavyer Jackson and Tyler Lucas did not play at all against Weaver. Defensive end/outside linebacker Tre Reese also remained on the sideline. Defensive end Payton Young played despite an ankle sprain then reinjured his ankle and sat out the entire second half. In addition, inside linebacker Taylor Hayes did not play a snap.
Dalton Barber played for Hayes at inside backer and Jacob Clark started at outside linebacker for Reese. Jackson’s injury created a domino effect. Jared Prater moved from outside linebacker to defensive end. Cody Daughtry moved from cornerback to what had been Prater’s outside backer spot. Dreek Thompson switched from safety to cornerback for Daughtry and Bayley Blanchard started at safety, replacing Thompson. When Young was injured, Clark moved to defensive end and Chase Keener came into the game at outside linebacker.
“Those guys all did extremely well,” Smith said.
Then Smith noted that his “steadies”, nose tackle Ryan Kirk, inside linebacker Neonta Alexander, cornerback Darnell Jackson and safety Tyler Lusk – the Bulldogs who played in their normal defensive positions – continued to do the outstanding jobs he and his staff have come to expect from them. Smith said he felt Lusk, who had two tackles, an interception and broke up another pass in addition to his work on offense, played his best all-around game of the season.
Alexander and Clark led the Bulldogs with nine tackles apiece and each recorded a quarterback sack. Keener and Blanchard each made six tackles. Three of Keener’s came behind the line and the sophomore also broke up a pass. Daughtry and Barber made five tackles apiece. Daughtry added a fumble recovery.
Kirk, Prater, Jackson, Austin Brazier and Jordan Buttram each made three tackles with Prater recording a tackle for loss. Young, Taylor Cooper, Trevaughn Carpenter and Couy Taylor each had two tackles. One of Cooper’s came behind the line.
Piedmont’s offense didn’t skip a beat in the first half. The Bulldogs had the ball seven times and scored seven touchdowns. Piedmont led 49-0 at halftime and 56-0 before Weaver scored once in the third quarter and once in the fourth.
Darnell Jackson led the way with 145 yards and three touchdowns on nine rushes. His first touchdown came from 11 yards out and came at the end of a 59-yard drive. Easton Kirk, 8-for-8 on extra points for the game, put Piedmont up 7-0 with the game just three minutes old.
Weaver threatened immediately but Lusk’s interception in the Piedmont end zone ended the threat and seemed to demoralize the Bearcats. Aided by a pass interference penalty, Piedmont needed just five plays to move 80 yards for a second score. Jackson scored on a 13-yard run at 4:45 of the first quarter. Weaver failed to gain a first down and punted to the Piedmont 48-yard line. On first down, Lusk connected with C.J. Savage on a deep throw down the Piedmont sideline and Savage scored easily.
Weaver turned the ball over on downs at the Piedmont 46 to start the second quarter. Jackson picked up five yards on the first play. Then it was Thompson’s turn with the ball. He ran up the middle for 23 yards then scored on a 26-yard carry to make it 28-0. Once again, Weaver punted and Prater capped a three-play, 42-yard drive with a 24-yard carry into the end zone.
In the final seven minutes of the second quarter, the Bulldogs added two touchdowns. Jackson got the first on a 25-yard run with 3:35 to go in the half. Thompson completed the first-half scoring with a 10-yard run with 1:35 left, pulling away from a Weaver defender about five yards away from the goal line.
Piedmont’s scoring ended with eight minutes remaining in the third quarter. The Bearcats punted to the Piedmont 20 and a first-down run lost two yards. That wasn’t a problem for Alexander, in the game at running back. On second down, Alexander ran up the middle for 51 yards. Lusk followed with a 31-yard scoring run.
Thompson was Piedmont’s second-leading rusher with 79 yards on six attempts. Alexander finished with 65 yards on three carries. Lusk ran twice for 38 yards. Prater’s three carries netted 25 yards. Carpenter and Cobey McFry each ran for 19 yards.
Lusk and Ty Sparks each was 1-for-2 passing and Blanchard was 1-for-1. Denard Spears was on the receiving end of a 37-yard gain from Sparks. Lusk’s completion was the 52-yard touchdown to Savage. Blanchard connected with Wil Mitchell for eight yards.