But such was the case in No. 6 Piedmont's 63-35 win against Hamilton in the quarterfinals of the Class 3A state football playoffs at The Field of Champions.
The Bulldogs (11-2) forced five turnovers — picking off Aggies standout freshman quarterback Mitch Stults five times — scoring a touchdown on an interception return and setting up anther score with a takeaway in the win that advanced the Bulldogs to the state semifinals for the first time since 1993.
Piedmont's Jamaal Johnson turned in a monumental performance to get the Bulldogs — a team that had won 10 games and lost in the third round in each of past two seasons — over the hump. He broke open a seesaw game late in the first half with a pair of picks in the last 1:45 of the second quarter.
Johnson first snatched a Stults pass out of the sky at the Bulldogs 40-yard line and returned it 50 yards down to the Aggies 10 with a minute and half to play before the break. That set up a 10-yard touchdown run by Jaimie Major. Piedmont quarterback Chase Childers added the two-point conversion to give the Bulldogs a 35-21 lead. Then, Johnson recorded his second interception on the Aggies' next offensive possession, ending a drive that saw Hamilton reach the Bulldogs' 26.
"It was back and forth, and the big thing we needed was momentum," Johnson said. "I decided I'd step up and make the play for the defense."
Piedmont coach Steve Smith said defensive coordinator James Blanchard made the switch from the Bulldogs' typical man-to-man coverage scheme to a zone defense, something they'd only had to do one other time this season. That came in the opener at Cherokee County.
"We wanted to rush them and keep a lot of pressure on the quarterback," Piedmont running back Christian Cantrell said. "But we lost contain and it killed us a couple times. Then, we went to a zone and were still able to keep the pressure on them I think it worked out pretty well for us."
Cantrell also added an interception on defense.
Piedmont will travel to defending state champion Leeds (11-2) for a shot in to play in the state title game at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa. The Green Wave eliminated the Bulldogs in the third round a year ago. Piedmont lost 14-13 in overtime this season against Leeds in a Week 8 contest that decided the Class 3A, Region 5 winner.
Piedmont went ahead for good at 27-21 on a 9-yard score from Cantrell that capped a drive he began with a 59-yard tote on a first-and-10 from the Bulldogs' 30 that got them down to the Aggies' 11.
The Bulldogs proceeded to beat the breaks off the Aggies (11-2) once the second half began.
Piedmont scored 21 unanswered points on a 56-yard run by Childers on the second play of the half, a 51-yard pass from Childers to Tay Holloway on slant route and a 28-yard interception return for a score by Jeffrey Riffey to go up 56-21 with 6:17 remaining in the third.
"Once Jamaal got that big interception and we went up 27-21 that was definitely the turning point," Childers said. "In the second half, we just came out fired up."
Stults completed 15 of 24 passes for three touchdowns and five interceptions, adding a pair of touchdown passes, each to Derek Doss. He also carried the ball 14 times for 11 yards.