Rebuilding year turns into a great one
by Rip Donovan
Sports Correspondent
Nov 26, 2013 | 742 views |  0 comments | 2 2 recommendations | email to a friend | print
What was supposed to be a rebuilding year at best for the Piedmont football team ended one play short of the AHSAA Class 3A semifinals. Visiting Madison Academy, defending state champion and ranked No. 1 all of this season, edged the Bulldogs 34-33 in overtime last Friday night.

Madison Academy had the ball to start the overtime and scored immediately for a 34-27 advantage. After Piedmont answered on a 7-yard pass from quarterback Ty Sparks to Cody Daughtry, Bulldogs coach Steve Smith called for a 2-point conversion attempt. Sparks’ pass to Darnell Jackson was knocked away from Jackson at the last moment. Piedmont finished 11-2. Madison Academy upped its record to 13-0 and plays at Saks Friday.

“I don’t think you’ll find a group of kids that play harder than ours do. … All the negativity as far as graduation and people feeling like we were going to have a down year, those kids took it to heart. They took it personally and really busted their tails over the offseason to get themselves in a position to where they could make a run at it and prove people wrong,” Smith said. “In all my years of coaching, I’ve probably had more fun watching this group develop this year than any other time.”

Ten seniors – Caleb Adams, Taylor Cooper, Exavyer Jackson, Ryan Kirk, Dustin Norton, Jaret Prater, Jeffery Pryor, Tre Reese, Ty Sparks and Denard Spears – played their final game for Piedmont.

“As good a players as they’ve turned themselves into, they’re even better people. I think the world of all of them. They’re team-oriented, team-first guys, play any opposition you ask them to play, do whatever you ask them to do. I’m really, really proud to be their coach,” Smith said of the group.

Reese transferred to Piedmont and started playing for the Bulldogs as a junior, the same year Cooper came out for football. Sparks transferred following the 2012 season and played one year as the Bulldogs’ quarterback. The remaining seven have been playing since middle school.

“When they were in the middle school program, there weren’t a lot of high expectations for these kids collectively as a group. They really, really worked extremely hard. They bought into everything that we were trying to do from a football standpoint,” Smith noted. “They really, really laid it on the line for our school and for their teammates. I’ve never had a group that’s progressed as much from seventh grade to twelfth grade as that group did.”

Piedmont opened the Madison Academy game by kicking to the Mustangs. An interception in the Piedmont end zone by Tyler Lusk ended that possession. Starting at the Piedmont 20-yard line, the Bulldogs moved 80 yards in seven plays for the game’s first score. Sparks passed to Spears for 42 yards to set up his 10-yard toss to Spears for the touchdown with 2:40 left in the first quarter. Easton Kirk’s kick was tipped but made its way over the crossbar and Piedmont led 7-0.

Two minutes later, Madison Academy knotted the score at 7-7 on a 1-yard run by Malik Miller. A 65-yard run by Kerryon Johnson did the most damage.

After an interception by the Mustangs, Taylor Hayes caused Miller to fumble and recovered himself at the Piedmont 21. Piedmont immediately fumbled back to Madison Academy. Miller capped a 13-yard drive with a 1-yard run to make it 14-7 with 9:29 remaining in the second quarter.

Piedmont turned the ball over on downs then forced a three-and-out to get it back. Starting at the Piedmont 47, the Bulldogs opened with a 21-yard gain on a pass from Sparks to Daughtry. Four plays later, Darnell Jackson scored on a 16-yard run with 1:10 to go before halftime.

At that point, Smith called for a 2-point conversion play but a halfback pass the Bulldogs hadn’t shown all year was unsuccessful. Smith said he had full confidence in Kirk, who was 30-for-31 in his most recent extra point attempts, but expected to take a lead into halftime.

“We were going to be getting the ball to start the second half and they haven’t been behind all year. I really felt like at that point in time that we could get it, get the lead and get the ball on them and hopefully put them in a position they hadn’t been in all year and kind of make them press a little bit. That was why we did it. I wanted to go in at halftime with the lead,” he said.

Just before intermission, Lusk had his second interception of the game but the score remained 14-13 Madison Academy at the break.

A third down pass came up a yard short and Piedmont punted on the initial possession of the second half. Aided by a 31-yard run by Johnson, Madison Academy moved 76 yards in eight plays and padded its lead to 21-13 at 7:04 of the third quarter.

The Bulldogs answered with a 73-yard drive in 10 plays. On fourth-and-12, Sparks completed an 18-yard touchdown pass to Daughtry on a wheel route with 3:13 left in the third. On the 2-point conversion, the Mustangs knocked away a pass to protect their 21-19 lead

Madison Academy was three-and-out on the ensuing possession. On the final play of the third quarter, Sparks connected with Daughtry for a 38-yard gain to the MA 46. The first play of the fourth quarter was a slant to Spears that covered 40 yards to the MA 6.

Hayes scored from there but the points were wiped out by a procedure penalty. A pass interference call against the Mustangs put Piedmont back at the 6. From there, Madison Academy stripped the ball from a Piedmont runner, setting the stage for a 96-yard drive that needed just five plays. Miller had a 51-yard run and three plays later the Mustangs scored on a 34-yard pass from Ashton Coward to Logan Hamlett with 8:53 to play.

Daughtry blocked the extra point attempt, keeping Madison Academy’s margin one score.

Again, Piedmont answered with a 74-yard drive in eight plays. A 27-yard Sparks to Daughtry pass started the march. Sparks completed a 22-yard pass to C.J. Savage that got Piedmont to the Mustangs’ 2. Hayes scored from there then ran for the 2-point conversion that made the score 27-27.

“We did some things that might have been a little bit out of the ordinary but every decision we made was made with the intention of winning the ball game. We didn’t want to just go in there and have a good effort. We didn’t want to go in there and play them close. That was never talked about in the locker room. Our whole goal was to win the game,” Smith said.

Jackson ran 13 times for 82 yards. Dreek Thompson gained 49 yards on seven carries and Sparks netted 21 yards on five rushes. Sparks was 16-for-26 passing for 296 yards. Daughtry caught seven passes for 144 yards. Spears picked up 101 yards on four catches. Savage had three receptions for 41 yards and Jackson’s two receptions gained 10 yards.

Thompson led the defense with 12 tackles. Hayes, Exavyer Jackson and Neonta Alexander each made 10 tackles. Daughtry had eight tackles. Lusk and Reese each had seven tackles. One of Lusk’s was behind the line of scrimmage. Darnell Jackson had a tackle behind the line and five other stops. Prater and Payton Young each recorded four tackles with one of Young’s for a loss. Cooper and Jacob Clark each made two tackles.
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Sports Correspondent

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