On Friday night, Smith could have picked out any of several big-time players on defense who stood out in Class 3A No. 2 Bulldogs’ 26-10 win over No. 4-ranked Leeds.
“It’s obviously a big win,” Smith said. “We have a world of respect for Leeds and their program, and they’re a great measuring stick for anyone because they always make a deep run when it comes playoff time. To come to do their place and have success on their field, it’s big for our team.”
Piedmont’s defense took away six turnovers, and after the offense struggled to put points on the board in the first half, the Bulldogs (5-0) exploded in the second half.
“I think they were just good plays that we made,” Smith said. “Most of the time there’s a fumble, someone has stripped the ball. On interceptions, we had some big playmakers.”
The lone touchdown for the Bulldogs in the first half came after Jaret Prater recovered a fumble.
On the next play Ty Sparks hit Darnell Jackson on a 29-yard pass to give Piedmont a 7-0 lead.
In addition to Prater’s fumble recovery, Jackson and Cody Daughtry each intercepted a pass. But the Bulldogs went into intermission tied 7-7.
But Piedmont’s defense kept up the pressure after intermission, forcing three more turnovers, turning one into a touchdown. The offense produced a pair of long drives, and Piedmont had a win over Leeds (3-2).
“When you have a game that’s real tight like that it comes down to will,” Smith said. “In the second half we caused three turnovers. Our guys went out there, put a hat on the ball, tipped passes, intercepted passes, and us protecting it on offense took some momentum away from them. I think that contributed to us coming out on top. We responded well to be tied up at halftime.”
In the third quarter, Neonta Alexander recovered a fumble, which set up C.J. Savage’s 36-yard touchdown run on a speed sweep on the next play.
After the Green Wave managed a field goal to slice the lead to 14-10 in the third period, Piedmont’s offense woke up.
Piedmont tracked 68 yards on 10 plays to score. The main force behind the drive was freshman quarterback Taylor Hayes, who rushed for 33 yards on the series, including the touchdown.
“We saw them on their heels a little bit, and the line started moving the line of scrimmage,” Smith said. “We put big X in the backfield and Taylor only knows one speed. He came in and did an outstanding job.”
Prater scored on Piedmont’s next drive on a 69-yard run to give Piedmont a 26-10 lead.
On Leeds’ following possession, Alexander intercepted a pass to give it back to Piedmont.
“You can’t have six turnovers and play against them,” Leeds coach Keith Etheridge said. “We’re lucky it was only 26-10. Six turnovers? I don’t think they had any.”
On Leeds’ last chance to make any kind of a comeback, Daughtry recovered a fumble, ultimately sealing the win.
“If it wasn’t for Payton Young stripping it, they might have scored,” Daughtry said. “I knew that once we had the ball we’d run it a few times and do kneel. I knew it was over after that.”
Tre Nation led the ground game for Leeds with 36 yards on nine carries. He also had 34 yards receiving.
Piedmont was led on the ground by Prater, who had 84 yards on six carries, gaining all of his yards in the second half. Ty Sparks threw for 90 yards.