For the second time in as many years, the Bulldogs (10-1) travel to Tuscumbia Friday for a second-round clash with the Deshler Tigers. For the second year in a row, coach John Mothershed’s team finished the regular season 7-3 then won its initial playoff game and the host role in the second round.
Last year, Deshler ended Piedmont’s hopes of an undefeated season and a second state championship with a 28-6 victory.
Piedmont coach Steve Smith said Tuesday that on offense Deshler will again employ its familiar wing-T. Justin Cantrell, last year’s quarterback who had two long touchdown passes against the Bulldogs, is gone but replacing him is 6-foot-2 transfer Sam Howard. Howard had a pair of touchdowns passes in Deshler’s first-round win at New Hope. On the receiving end of both of Howard’s touchdown tosses was B.J. Bailey who had a 40-yard scoring reception against the Bulldogs last year.
Familiar faces return in the Deshler backfield in running backs Chandler Brown and Terrance Byrd. Byrd ran for over 100 yards and two touchdowns against Piedmont in 2012.
The Tigers have made some changes on defense.
“They were a four-man front last year, played 4-3. This year, they’ve been playing some 3-3 stack and some 3-4 and mixing in a little four-man front,” Smith said. “They’ve been kind of multiple on defense.”
There are familiar faces on the defensive side, too. Linebackers Taj Bates and LaDrelin Cheatum return as do linemen DeAndre Acklin and Jansen McKinney. McKinney is a massive 6-foot-3 and 335 pounds.
The Bulldogs were their own worst enemies in last year’s loss. Although they had 15 plays of 10 yards or more on offense they also had negative plays on 13 snaps. A blocked punt led to Byrd’s first touchdown run and Piedmont later had three turnovers.
“I think offensively we need to stay away from negative plays and long-yardage situations. … Just like it always is in close ball games, you can’t have turnovers and mistakes on special teams and we had a healthy dose of both last year,” Smith said.
To reach the second round, Piedmont blanked visiting Winfield 38-0 last Friday. The shutout was the third of the year for the Bulldogs. Senior defensive lineman Exavyer Jackson led the stellar defensive effort with 14 tackles. That total included four quarterback sacks and another tackle behind the line of scrimmage. Jackson also caused a fumble. All while battling a stomach virus during the day and during the game.
“He was sick as a dog last week,” Smith said. “He just gutted it out…. X just had an exceptional game.”
Linebacker Neonta Alexander and safety Tyler Lusk each recorded 10 tackles. Linebacker Taylor Hayes had one tackle for lost yards and eight other stops. End Tre Reese and linebacker Jaret Prater each had seven tackles. Reese’s total included three sacks and one additional tackle behind the line and Prater had one tackle for loss.
Nose tackle Ryan Kirk and cornerback Cody Daughtry each made six tackles. Linebacker Jacob Clark and safety Bayley Blanchard had five tackles apiece. Mitchell Bennefield and Chase Keener each made four tackles. Keener and Easton Kirk each broke up a pass. Dalton Barber and Darnell Jackson had three tackles apiece and Jackson had an interception.
Colton Donaldson had two tackles, including a sack. Austin Brazier and Couy Taylor each made two tackles.
Piedmont led Winfield 10-0 at halftime then put the game away with four touchdowns in the third quarter. The Bulldogs needed just two plays to score after taking the second half kickoff. Darnell Jackson picked up six yards on a speed sweep. Tyler Lusk came into the game at quarterback, faked another speed sweep then threw deep to C.J. Savage down the visitors’ sideline. The scoring play covered 72-yards.
Winfield went three-and-out with the punt rolling to a stop at the Piedmont 25-yard line. Overcoming a holding penalty and aided by a pass interference call, the Bulldogs covered the distance in just two minutes. A 27-yard run by Darnell Jackson and a 14-yard gain on a pass from Ty Sparks to Alexander helped get the ball to the Pirates’ 14. From there, Lusk returned to quarterback, rolled right then threw back to Savage on a screen that Savage took the distance.
The Pirates ran three more plays, all for negative yardage, and punted again. This time there was no roll and Piedmont took over at the Winfield 44. Runs of 13 yards by Sparks and 14 by Darnell Jackson set up Sparks’ 15-yard touchdown pass to Daughtry who made a leaping catch at the goal-line pylon.
With 17 seconds to play in the third quarter, Winfield turned the ball over on downs at the Piedmont 37. The first play was a speed sweep to Spears. Moving left to right, he took advantage of blocks by Savage and Darnell Jackson at the corner then used his state-champion sprinter speed to cover the 63 yards. With five seconds left in the third quarter, Piedmont led 38-0.
“I thought the second half we did a much better job of stretching the field, spreading them out a little bit with the motion stuff helping with the stunting they were doing,” Smith said. “I think that was a big key. Having that threat of handing it on a speed sweep to Denard kind of neutralizes a lot of what people want to do, on the outside part in particular.”
The opening kickoff went to Winfield and the Pirates gained some momentum when they picked up two quick first downs. Then Winfield threw downfield and Darnell Jackson intercepted for Piedmont at the Piedmont 8.
Piedmont punted twice before a 30-yard punt return by Savage took the ball to the Winfield 20. The drive stalled but kicker Easton Kirk came to the rescue with a 32-yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter for a 3-0 lead. Kirk also made all five extra points.
With seven minutes remaining in the second quarter, Winfield’s 39-yard field goal attempt was just short and Piedmont got the ball at the Piedmont 20. Carries of 14 yards by Alexander, 13 by Darnell Jackson and 32 yards by Sparks got the ball to the Pirates’ 8. On fourth-and-goal, Exavyer Jackson scored on a 2-yard run to give Piedmont its 10-0 halftime lead.
Darnell Jackson led the rushing attack with 108 yards on 10 carries. Spears ran four times for 70 yards. Sparks had five runs for 32 yards. Trevaughn Carpenter gained 16 yards, Reese and Blanchard each rushed for 15 yards, Alexander 14 and Prater 11. Overall, the Bulldogs rushed for 299 yards on 39 carries.
Through the air, Sparks was 5-for-8 for 50 yards. Lusk was 2-for-3 for 86 yards. Savage caught three passes for 99 yards. Spears had two receptions for eight yards. Daughtry’s touchdown pass of 15 yards was his only catch. Alexander had one catch for 14 yards.