Four touchdowns in the second quarter ended the suspense early and Alabama Sports Writers Association’s newly minted top-ranked Bulldogs dispatched winless J.B. Pennington 45-0 for its fourth consecutive 3A, Region 6 win and fourth win overall.
Piedmont’s victory — and Glencoe’s 14-7 win over Weaver — sets the stage Friday for a Region 6 showdown of unbeatens at Glencoe.
“We try to tell our kids every week, ‘You play the opponent that’s next on the schedule.’” Bulldogs head coach Steve Smith said. “I thought our kids did a really good job of remaining focused and taking care of the task at hand.”
Each of Piedmont’s six touchdowns came from a different player. For the second straight game the Bulldogs got a touchdown on a punt return, this one from senior Landon Pruitt.
“Special teams play continues to be good for us,” Smith said, citing kick coverage as well as returns.
Pruitt fielded the ball near midfield on the visitors’ side, moved toward the home side then cut back to score Piedmont’s third touchdown.
“It was exciting. It was just good blocking,” Pruitt said, acknowledging blocks from Sloan Garner and Dreke Thompson along the way. “I just kept cutting it back, taking what I could get and it just kept getting longer. It feels like a big momentum swing when you get one on special teams.”
While there was much for the home crowd to cheer for, the play that produced the biggest fan response didn’t produce a touchdown. Early in the second quarter, junior Marquez Gamble recovered a fumble in mid-air at the 50-yard line and headed toward the Pennington goal line.
“That ball just popped up and he got a hold of it and took off running,” said Smith
“I was getting off a block and somebody was hitting No. 9 (tailback Justin Philyaw) and the ball just popped into my hands,” said Gamble, a combination nose guard/defensive end. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, getting a fumble and trying to run it back, for a lineman.”
Like a good running back, Gamble followed his blockers. The problem was all the Bulldogs were ahead of him and the danger came from behind.
“I shook the first tackle and got about 10 yards more before I got popped back down,” Gamble said.
Gamble’s return took the ball to the Pennington 17 and three plays later the Bulldogs had their second touchdown on a pass from quarterback Cade Bradley to Garner.
Piedmont’s opening possession produced one of the few negatives on the night, a lost fumble at the Pennington 35.
The next time the Bulldogs got the ball, Bradley hit Cass McCord on a short pass that McCord turned into a 27-yard gain. Three plays later Bradley had a 34-yards touchdown on a quarterback draw. Chris Strott, 6-for-6 in extra points, made it 7-0.
Less than three minutes into the second quarter, Bradley lofted a perfect fade to Garner in the left corner from 20 yards out. Pruitt’s punt return made it 21-0 with 7:12 still left before halftime.
A 12-yard run by Thompson — set up by a Quadree Woods fumble recovery — and a 4-yarder by senior Jacob Herring set the halftime score.
In the third quarter, Strott added a 27-yard field goal. A 68-yard run up the middle on third-and-10 by eighth-grader Darnell Jackson midway through the fourth quarter scoring.
Jackson finished with seven carries for 108 yards, the most for any of Piedmont’s nine rushers. Bradley was 3-for-5 passing for 67 yards.
Pennington’s ground game netted 63 yards. The Tigers were 0-for-3 passing.