“This is a throw-back team. This is a team that gives you every ounce of energy they’ve got on every play. … In the end, I think it just came down to a matter of will — that our kids refused to lose,” Piedmont coach Steve Smith said.
The Bulldogs, who will host Class 3A No. 1 Madison Academy in the quarterfinals Friday, hadn’t had more than one first down in any possession when Deshler punted into the Piedmont end zone with 9:33 to play.
Ty Sparks passed to C.J. Savage to move the chains on third down, then Taylor Hayes ran for an 11-yard gain on a quarterback keeper on the next snap. An incomplete pass, a negative play and two penalties brought a third-and-26. Sparks found Cody Daughtry for 36 yards on a slant and followed that with a 14-yard throw to Denard Spears.
On third down, Sparks threw to Denard Spears in the end zone from 14 yards out with 5:14 on the clock.
“That‘s my favorite play in the playbook, 71-Z-sponge. Denard runs it as good as anybody I’ve ever seen and the line they stepped up huge on that drive,” Sparks said.
Spears said he thought Daughtry’s catch on the slant influenced the safety and the cornerback on the deciding touchdown.
“When I went in he figured I was going to run a slant. When I got his hips turned, I turned back out and I believe it was too late for him to catch up with me,” Spears said. “Ty made a great throw.”
With the score knotted 19-19, holder Bayley Blanchard got a low snap up, and Easton Kirk’s extra point finished the scoring.
Deshler had two more chances. The first ended with a punt after safety Tyler Lusk tipped away a pass headed toward B.J. Bailey. Daughtry put Deshler in a deep hole when he killed Sparks’ 41-yard punt at the Tigers’ 1-yard line with 1:52 to play. Deshler quarterback Sam Howard threw to Bailey for 14 yards but linebacker Neonta Aelxander stepped in front of Bailey for an interception at the Deshler 20 on the next play, and after that, Deshler couldn’t stop the clock.
Deshler took an early 6-0 lead on two field goals. With less than two minutes left in the first half, Lusk threw downfield to Savage between two defenders, and Savage turned the throw into a 68-yard score.
Kirk’s kick had Piedmont up 7-6 at halftime.
The Bulldogs added to their momentum when Darnell Jackson returned the second half kickoff 75 yards for a touchdown. Deshler blocked the extra point, then scored its only touchdown on a 44-yard pass on its ensuing possession for a 13-13 tie. Two more field goals put Deshler ahead 19-13 when the third quarter ended.