Now, the Bulldogs are one win away for playing for the title once again.
With the quarterfinal win, No. 5 Piedmont (12-1) advances to the semifinals where it will play host to third-ranked Hamilton, a 34-14 winner over Madison Academy, for a berth into the Super 6 at Auburn University’s Jordan-Hare Stadium.
“It might not have been what people expected when you don’t come out and dominate on both sides of the ball every play,” said Piedmont coach Steve Smith, who has guided the Bulldogs to the postseason each year he’s been at the helm. “But I told our guys, ‘There’s no such thing as an ugly win in the third round of the playoffs.’”
The Bulldogs jumped out to a 14-0 lead but were up by only a score at the break after allowing a long touchdown right before the half.
While the Bulldogs offense might’ve sputtered at times, committing an uncharacteristic three turnovers, its defense flourished. Piedmont held Plainview to just 139 yards of offense and gave up just 26 in the second half while forcing a pair of turnovers on interceptions during the game.
“They made it so we had to throw it on first down,” Plainview coach Dale Pruitt said. “Everyone talks about how good they are up front but their secondary is pretty good, too. They can man you across the line of scrimmage and they get good penetration.”
Piedmont running back Derrick Jackson led all ball carriers with 140 yards on just 11 carries. He scored on a 20-yard run right up the gut that put the Bulldogs up 7-0 with 3:46 left in the first following a successful point after attempt by Chris Strott.
A Jamaal Johnson interception early in the second quarter gave Piedmont the ball on the Plainview 47-yard line. Strott found receiver Noah Willis — who also had an interception on defense — on a 43-yard pitch and catch. Strott then floated a beauty across the middle to Johnson to put Piedmont ahead two touchdowns with 8:49 remaining in the second.
It looked as if Piedmont was on its way to burying the Bears (8-4).
Hamilton showed it wasn’t dead when senior Tyler Dickers broke three or four tackles on a 40-yard romp to the end zone 2:12 seconds before the half to put cut Piedmont’s lead to 14-7.
Earlier in the week, Smith said his team lines up in a new-school formation but they run old-school plays when commenting on his team’s commitment to running the football out of its spread offense. Smith said they ran less misdirection plays and took their chances lining up their offensive linemen mano-a-mano against the Bears in the second half.
Four of their first seven running plays went for 12 more yards, capped off by a 35-yard gainer for a score by Jamie Major who went off tackle behind a made by a pulling Clay Dent at the 7:31 mark of the third quarter. That gave Piedmont a 21-7 advantage.
“I just wanted to hit the guy as hard as I could. If I couldn’t hit him hard, I at least wanted to clear him out as much room as I could,” said the 5-foot-10, 180-pound Dent. “We stepped up a lot in the second half. It’s a challenge. You’ve just got to impose your will on them. It doesn’t matter how big they are.”
Major carried the ball eight times for 54 yards.
Piedmont could’ve broken the game open early in the fourth but a fumble on handoff exchange between Strott and Jackson at the Plainview 13 with gave the Bears another shot, down 14 with a little more than 10 minutes left to play.
But Piedmont shut them down. Johnson broke up a pass in one-on-one coverage on a fourth-and-3 play that killed any hope Plainview might’ve had.
It was a fitting end to an all-around performance by Johnson, last week’s state defensive Player of the Week, that included two rushes for 20 yards, a pair of catches for 12 yards, the aforementioned interception and a jarring hit on defense.
The Bulldogs took the ball over on the Bears’ 26-yard line and Strott eventually hit 6-6 receiver Sloan Garner on a jump ball in the corner of the end zone for the game’s final score with 5:26 to play.
Strott completed 9 of 16 passes for 108 yards including two touchdowns and two interceptions. Willis had three catches for 67 yards.
“At halftime they really got into us,” Major said of his coaches. “They said we were playing with no effort, no heart and no passion. It really lit a fire under us. We’ve got to come out focused, have practices Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and be ready for Hamilton Friday.”
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575. Follow him on Twitter @birds_word.