E.A. Sports Today

Playing No. 1 on road to No. 1

Piedmont, Central-Clay County both face top-ranked opponents Friday in playoffs

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

Steve Smith was working the room at the coaches meeting in Montgomery Saturday contemplating the upcoming playoff challenge for his Piedmont football team when he happened upon a kindred spirit who might be understanding of his plight.

Kris Herron was coming from the opposite direction, but he couldn’t offer much comfort.

“Steve was looking for a little sympathy and I said you’re not going to get any from me,” the Central-Clay County coach said. “We were both looking for a little sympathy and couldn’t get it from either one.”

That’s because both were rowing the same boat. Both their teams play the No. 1 team in their respective classifications in the second round of the playoffs Friday night.

Smith’s eighth-ranked Bulldogs (8-3) travel 104 miles to two-time reigning state champion Madison Academy (10-1) in the 3A playoffs, while Herron’s Volunteers (8-3) trek 246 miles to the opposite end of I-65 to face St. Paul’s (11-0) in 5A.

Both East Alabama teams see their games with the No. 1s as a great opportunity rather than an insurmountable obstacle, and while the prize at the end of the night is the same for both – a potential third-round game against a region rival — the matchup may hold bigger stakes for the Volunteers.

Piedmont has been in the playoffs under Smith three times longer than Central has been a school and has won a state championship trophy to go with it. The Volunteers have been around only three years following the merger of perennial contenders Clay County and Lineville, so a win over the Saints would be, Herron said, “that big win that’s gonna get some people’s attention.”

“Our school is still fairly new,” Herron said. “What it came from was very well-established and had a kind of statewide reputation, bur our school – Clay Central — doesn’t quite have that yet. … This is an opportunity to go down and see how we compete with them and definitely get some recognition if we could go pull this thing off.”

Piedmont, meanwhile, isn’t without incentive. The Bulldogs have had Madison Academy on their radar since last year’s quarterfinals, when they lost to the Mustangs on the Field of Champions in overtime when their two-point conversion for the win failed.

A second-round matchup may be a little sooner than anticipated, but if the Bulldogs were going to succeed and proceed in the playoffs, they’d likely have to go through the Mustangs at some point.

“I told our kids Friday night as soon as (the Pisgah game) ended the old saying is to be the best you’ve got to beat the best,” Smith said. “Madison Academy has owned 3A for the last three years and until somebody proves otherwise they were the best in the state.

“We don’t look at it as an insurmountable challenge or anything like that. It’s our next game, who we drew on the bracket, that’s the game we’re playing. There’s not any added motivation because of last year or because they’re No. 1.

“Our goal is to win a state championship and to do that you’ve got win five games and Round 2 matches us up with them. We know we’ve got our work cut out for us, but it’ll be a big-time opportunity to go and show what kind of team we have, too.”

Both teams have played a No. 1 team — the same No. 1 — already this year. Class 4A Leeds beat the Volunteers 28-7 in Game 4 and two weeks later beat the Bulldogs 42-18. Madison Academy lost to Leeds, too — in the season opener.

The Volunteers have been in playoff mode since their open date. They were 2-3 at the time, tweaked the lineup a little, and have won six in a row since to storm into the playoffs.

Among the tweaks were increasing the role of D.J. Denny and Colby Robinson on the offensive line, moving JoJo Staples from strong safety to defensive end and increasing Evan Whitehead’s time at safety. The result has been outscoring their opponents an average of 34-10 during the winning streak and allowing only six offensive touchdowns.

“Our seniors kind of took the bull by the horns, like we’ve got to do this and it’s time to get these kinks worked out,” Herron said. “The intensity level has kind of picked up the last few weeks, too, the sense of urgency, and that goes back to the seniors.”

Both No. 1s come into the game off one-sided playoff openers. Madison Academy routed Winston County 56-7 and St Paul’s routed Helena 57-14 in a game reduced to 10-minute quarters and a running clock in the second half.


Half the Calhoun County teams in the second-round of the playoffs will be playing their opponents for the first time ever Friday night. Here’s a breakdown (x-playoff game):

No. 4 Donoho (11-0) at Marion County (6-5)
(Marion County leads 1-0)

2011-x – Marion County 42, @ Donoho 21

No. 8 Piedmont (8-3) vs. No. 1 Madison Academy (10-1)
(Madison Academy leads 1-0)

2013-x – Madison County 34, @ Piedmont 33 (OT)

No. 6 McAdory (11-0) at Oxford (6-5)
(McAdory leads 2-0)

1980 — @ McAdory 12, Oxford 7
1981 – McAdory 15, @ Oxford 7

No. 8 Oakman (10-1) at Wellborn (7-3)
(This is the first meeting)

No. 5 Saks (10-1) at No. 4 Deshler (10-1)
(This is the first meeting)

No. 9 Fayette County (8-3) at No. 8 Jacksonville (9-2)
(This is the first meeting)

Cover photo: Piedmont locked horns with No. 1 Leeds on a Thursday night in late September

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