Another winning streak will be on the line when Piedmont opens Class 3A, Region 5 action at home Friday, hosting the Ashville Bulldogs. The Blue and Gold Bulldogs have won all three meetings since the series, dormant since 1991, was revived in 2010. Piedmont leads the overall series 11-7.
Ashville began its 2013 season with a 21-0 loss to Class 4A Springville Friday. In that contest, Ashville played 6-foot-4, 240-pound senior E.J. Moss at tight end and middle linebacker. Moss, who had been Ashville’s starting quarterback since he was an eighth-grader, had a couple of passes thrown his way and moved to tailback for a couple of carries according to Piedmont head coach Steve Smith. Smith said Moss’ role on offense seemed to involve blocking mostly.
“They ran just basic stuff,” Smith said of Ashville’s game plan against Springville. “They were pretty much just a pro-set type on offense and a 4-3 on defense. They didn’t hardly run any different formations or anything.”
Smith said Tuesday he did not anticipate any changes in his team’s practice routine for Ashville.
“Hopefully, we can just continue to work like we have and see some good results,” he said.
Against Cherokee County, Piedmont took full advantage of a series of turnovers by the Warriors and led 21-7 after one quarter. Cornerback Darnell Jackson recovered a fumble at the Cherokee County 47-yard line with 9:49 remaining in the first quarter to end the opening possession of the game. Six running plays and two minutes later, Piedmont led 7-0. Senior wide receiver Denard Spears began the march with a 9-yard gain on a speed sweep and ended it with 2-yard gain on the same play to the opposite side.
Cherokee County hit the Bulldogs with a 76-yard scoring pass to knot the score at 7-all at 6:02 of the first quarter. The Bulldogs responded with Darnell Jackson’s 20-yard kickoff return and a 40-yard gain on a downfield throw from senior quarterback Ty Sparks to wide receiver C.J. Savage. Three running plays had Piedmont with a second-and-goal inside the 1 and Smith called for the heavy package. Senior Exavyer Jackson, normally a starter along the defensive line, got the call and the touchdown. The second of six consecutive extra points by freshman kicker Easton Kirk made it 14-7 with 4:25 still on the first-quarter clock and Piedmont never trailed again.
On the ensuing Warrior possession, linebacker Neonta Alexander separated Cherokee County quarterback J.T. Hill from the ball and Exavyer Jackson plucked the ball out of the air. Darnell Jackson’s 10-yard run made the turnover costly and upped Piedmont’s advantage to 21-7.
Mistakes continued to plague Cherokee County in the second quarter. A bad snap on the quarter’s first play handed the ball to Piedmont at the Cherokee County 21. With Tyler Lusk at quarterback, Piedmont went for the quick score and Savage grabbed Lusk’s pass just inside the end zone.
This time the Warriors ran two plays before fumbling on the third. Piedmont’s Jacob Clark recovered and Piedmont’s second play was a 15-yard scoring pass from Sparks to Spears.
Piedmont’s sixth possession began on the Cherokee County 48 after a 25-yard punt and ended when Dreek Thompson scored on a 10-yard run. Ahead 42-7, the Bulldogs were content to run out the final three minutes of the second quarter.
“I thought the big key to the game was being able to get out to a big lead and take them out of that ball-control type of game plan that they had,” Smith said.
Five minutes into the third quarter, Darnell Jackson scored on an 85-yard run. Trevaughn Carpenter’s 34-yard run made it 54-7 with two minutes still to play in the third. Exavyer Jackson completed the scoring with a 29-yard field goal with just over three minutes remaining.
Official Piedmont statistics showed 12 Bulldogs ran the ball a total of 43 times and gained 394 yards on the ground behind Piedmont’s retooled offensive line. Senior center Caleb Adams and senior right tackle Jeffery Pryor are the only returning starters along the offensive forward wall. They have been joined on this year’s starting five by senior left tackle Dustin Norton, sophomore right guard Jamie Crutcher and freshman left guard Chase Bobbitt. Adams said hearing doubters has pushed him and his comrades.
“Everybody’s been telling us that we weren’t going to be any good this year,” Adams said after Friday’s victory. “It’s motivated us a lot. We aren’t as big as we used to be. … Coach (Everett) Kelley and Coach Smith got with us and said the only way we were going to win was if we worked hard. We hit the weight room really hard this summer and we got bigger and stronger and that helped a lot. We got quicker. We’ve been watching film and breaking it down and just been working hard.”
With the running game working so well, Piedmont attempted just five passes against the Warriors and completed four for 83 yards and two touchdowns. Sparks was 2-for-3 for 55 yards and a touchdown. His only incompletion was a dropped ball. Lusk was 1-for-1 for 21 yards and a score. Taylor Hayes was 1-for-1 for seven yards.
“It was just basically the way things worked out,” Smith said of the reduced passing attack. “We would like to be a little more balanced than what we were, that’s for sure, but that’s just the way it kind of worked out this time.”
Cherokee County ran for 73 yards in the first half. Other than the big-play touchdown pass, the Warriors had four additional completions for a total of 27 yards before intermission.
“I thought it was a pretty good team effort,” Smith said of Piedmont’s play on defense. “We had several guys who made their first start and I thought our linebackers played well as a group. I was real pleased there. Probably the guys that stood out the most were Neonta Alexander and Taylor Hayes, our two inside backers, in their first start on the varsity level. I thought they both played well.”
Hayes finished with seven tackles and Alexander had six stops. Chase Keener, Bayley Blanchard and Darnell Jackson also had six tackles apiece. Clark, Cody Daughtry, Exavyer Jackson and Jaret Prater made five stops each. Prater had Piedmont’s only quarterback sack when he chased Hill down from behind and dropped him for a 10-yard loss early in the third quarter.
Thompson and Tre Reese each had four tackles. Savage, Tyler Lucas, Couy Taylor and Austin Brazier had three tackles each. Lusk, Carpenter, Ryan Kirk, Mitchell Bennefield and Deven Hincy had two stops each while Easton Kirk and Wil Mitchell made one tackle apiece.