Smith had decided beforehand if Madison Academy got the ball first and scored, Piedmont would attempt a 2-point conversion if it scored, deciding the game right there. The plan fell into place, but Ty Sparks’ pass to Darnell Jackson was tipped away, securing the win for Madison Academy 34-33.
The loss in the Class 2A state quarterfinals ended Piedmont's season. Meanwhile, Madison Academy (13-0) advanced to next week's semifinals.
“We told them to play to win,” Smith said. “It’s a game of inches, and the ball just fell their way. It just came down to that one play in the end, but I explained to the kids there were a lot of huge plays in the game.”
Madison Academy scored easily on its overtime possession with Kerryon Johnson rushing for the 10-yard score on the first play. The Bulldogs (11-2) didn’t cut the lead to one point until third down when Sparks hit Cody Daughtry for a 7-yard score.
Following the score Piedmont lined up for the 2-point play, as it had since its second touchdown of the game. Sparks went for the same route as on the touchdown pass, but this time Jackson was the intended receiver. Jackson got two hands on the ball, but Malik Miller knocked the pass into the air as both players fell to the ground, with the ball quickly following suit.
“I don’t think anyone gave us much of a chance when it came to the media or people all over the state, but in our locker room there was nothing in our mind other than we expected to win,” Smith said. “That’s been our mentality for years. That’s the way our kids really feel.”
Piedmont had a chance to win the game in regulation after making a comeback from trailing 21-13 midway through the third quarter.
Sparks found Daughtry for a touchdown toward the end of the third quarter after Johnson gave Madison Academy the eight-point lead. Piedmont’s momentum was gaining, and the 10-play, 73-yard drive was just the beginning.
“Every time it looked like we gained a little control, Piedmont came back and made some plays,” Mustangs coach Eric Cohu said.
Down by two, Piedmont traveled right back down the field before Pierre Brown recovered a fumble on the 5-yard line, which led to a Madison Academy score.
All wasn’t bad for Piedmont, though. Jared Prater blocked the extra point to keep the margin to eight points, and the Bulldogs a score away from tying the game.
“It comes down to little thing and the missed extra point gave a talented, young Piedmont team life,” Cohu said. “They were one score down, and at that point that little thing made a big difference. I didn’t feel like we were going to pull away.”
The Bulldogs responded with an eight-play, 74-yard drive that ended with Taylor Hayes scoring on a 2-yard run and tying the game with a 3-yard run for a successful 2-point conversion with 4:26 left in the game.
“You will not find a team anywhere or any classification that will play any harder or has more heart than we’ve got,” Smith said. “We’re not intimidated by anybody. We’ll play anybody anywhere. We looked at it as an opportunity tonight to get the No. 1 team in here. We didn’t look at it as an insurmountable mountain.”
The Bulldogs got the ball back four plays later with 2:20 left on the clock and had a chance to decide the game in regulation. Piedmont traveled to the Madison Academy 36-yard line before the drive stalled and Sparks’ last-second heave was batted down in the end zone.
“We had our chances, but when we got to third down we ran and play and were going to force them to use a timeout if they wanted the ball and we would have punt it down deep,” Smith said. “Once they didn’t, we were content with letting it run down and attempt a Hail Mary and see what happened.”
Sparks finished the game with 211 yards and three touchdowns on 17-of-24 passing. Denard Spears caught six passes for 125 yards and score, and Daughtry had 106 yards and two scores on five receptions. Jackson rushed for 76 yards and a touchdown, and Dreek Thompson added 41 yards. Tyler Lusk intercepted two passes, and Hayes recovered a fumble.
Madison Academy was led by Miller, who finished the game with 140 yards and two touchdowns and added a fumble recovery and interception. Johnson rushed for 147 yards and two scores on 21 carries.
Brandon Miller covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575 or follow him on Twitter @bmiller_star