“This game is for the region championship regardless what happens with either one of us in the game next week,” Piedmont coach Steve Smith said of the game against Saks. “There’s no way around it. It’s cut and dry.”
The Bulldogs (7-0, 5-0) and Saks (6-1, 5-0) sit atop the Class 3A, Region 5 standings with only one other team having a winning record in the area, Glencoe.
“It’s one of those games where this is for all the marbles for us and Saks as far as the championship goes,” Smith added. “The loser of this game will be locked into second place.”
Despite both teams being undefeated in the region, Saks faces more of a challenge than Piedmont. If the Wildcats want to be the champions, they’ll have to defeat the No. 1-ranked team in 3A on the road.
Adding even more of a challenge, Saks coach Jonathan Miller said star tailback LaDarius Young was still day-to-day at the beginning of the week after missing last week’s contest vs. Weaver.
“When we get him back, he’ll bring a spark,” Miller said looking forward. “He has 984 yards in five and a half games. When we get him back it’s going to be a big boost on offense. He’s a good player and anytime you lose a player of his caliber, it’s going to hurt you.
“He’s having a nice season on defense, too. It’s like we lost a starter on both sides of the football.”
Miller said if Young is unable to play tonight, the Wildcats will have Devontae Young and Raekwon Blake taking over duties in the backfield and Quin Smith playing defensively.
Piedmont is going to need to play “assignment football” if it wants to slow down Saks’ offense, according to Smith.
“They do so much misdirection and so much play action and they do it very well that our guys are going to have to be very disciplined and stay with their assignments,” he explained. “We’re going to do the best job we can into getting into position for making those plays and on Friday night it’s going to be up to the players to be disciplined enough to stay at home and follow their keys.”
Miller joked that the best way to stop the Bulldogs’ offense is “say a prayer.”
“We’re just going to have to come out and try to play physical and play fast and match their intensity and slow them down a bit,” he said. “They have a lot of skill guys. They can throw it, they can run it. It’s going to be tough.”
Smith said the Bulldogs will run the same offense that it has run all year, averaging 36.57 points per game.
“We just try to do what we do best and figure out a way to do it against each opponent,” Smith said. “They bring an interesting challenge in that they have some good size up front, but they’ve got the back eight of their defense playing extremely well. They’ve done an outstanding job this year of keeping people in check.”
Miller said his immediate attention when looking at Piedmont, however, was its defense.
The Bulldogs haven’t allowed more than 13 points since their first game of the season. Only allowing 27 points combined in the months of September and October, Piedmont’s defense also posted three shutouts, including against No. 3 Leeds.
“They’re big, they’re fast, they’re physical,” Miller said directly. “It’s going to be a challenge to move the ball on them.”
The biggest problem for Saks in the big picture, however, may be winning at the Field of Champions.
Piedmont has not lost a home game since Nov. 26, 2010, when Hamilton won in the semi-finals of the playoffs. The Bulldogs have not lost a regular season game at home since 2009, when Leeds won 14-13 on its way to becoming state champions.
“Our players tend to play better at home and for whatever reason our fans seem to get into the game better at Piedmont,” Smith said. “We have great support on the road, don’t get me wrong on that, but there’s just something about the atmosphere at a game at Piedmont that’s different.
“There’s an electric atmosphere every time we step onto the field and our guys are certainly proud of the beautiful facility that we have and go out and defend it to the best of their abilities every time we get to step on that field. Anybody would tell you that in a game of this magnitude it is nice to play on your home field.”
Sports Writer Brandon Miller: 256-235-3575. On Twitter @bmiller_star.