E.A. Sports Today

Comeback classic

Randolph County rallies from early 21-point deficit, scores 28 in fourth quarter, twice in the final 90 seconds, to stun Piedmont and reach championship game

Randolph County’s Anterio Hester (8) helps the officials make the call after teammate Aaron Knight finds the end zone for the game-winning touchdown with 1.6 seconds to play Friday night. (Photo by Greg Warren)

“If you don’t believe in these guys after tonight, you won’t ever believe in them.” –Randolph County defensive coordinator Steve Giddens

By East Alabama Sports Today

PIEDMONT – Pick any number of words to describe Friday night’s Class 3A state semifinal between region rivals Piedmont and Randolph County and you still wouldn’t have nearly enough.

In a game that will remembered as a classic in state football playoff history, Randolph County staged an incredible fourth quarter comeback that literally went down to the final second to stun two-time reigning state champion Piedmont 35-28 and earn a trip to the state championship game.

The Tigers (13-1) will play Hillcrest-Evergreen (13-1) in Tuscaloosa’s Bryant-Denny Stadium Thursday at 11 a.m. for the Class 3A title that has resided in Piedmont the last two years. The Bulldogs had their 27-game home winning streak – the longest active streak in the state – and 36-game in-state winning streak snapped and finished the year 12-2.

To see a gallery of photos from the game, visit www.bjfranklin.smugmug.com

It will be Randolph County’s first trip to the title game since winning it all in 2003 — when it was a 2A power.

The Tigers were down 21-0 at halftime in this one and 21-7 entering the fourth quarter but scored four touchdowns in the final quarter to win. They scored twice in the final 1:30 of a wild final two minutes to put it in the category of a classic, with Aaron Knight scoring the game-winning touchdown from just on the other side of the goal line with 1.6 seconds to play.

“It was just a great second-half performance from our guys,” Randolph County coach Pat Prestridge said. “We preach to them don’t ever quit. It’s just like life. You don’t ever quit when you’re down. Sometimes it pays off for you, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you fall short, but I’m very proud of them and our coaches.”

“If you don’t believe in these guys after tonight, you won’t ever believe in them,” defensive coordinator Steve Giddens said.

The Tigers comeback was made all the more remarkable by the fact they had been thoroughly dominated by the Bulldogs in the first half. Piedmont held Randolph County to just 53 total yards in the first half (36 passing, 17 rushing).

The Bulldogs built their lead on a 63-yard run by T.J. Fairs on the first play of the game, a 32-yard Cardavion Myers touchdown run and a 36-yard Myers TD pass to Lee Stanley. Myers, who committed to Western Kentucky earlier in the week, led Piedmont with 127 yards rushing and two touchdowns.

But Randolph County looked like an entirely different team in the second half and with 5:51 to play they had it tied when running back Aaron Knight threw a 9-yard jump pass to Andrew Prestridge for a touchdown.

“We weren’t play like a championship level team and they were; we were playing down to a level we hadn’t been playing for weeks,” Knight said. “At halftime Coach P just told us the plain ol’ ugly truth that y’all aren’t playing like a championship level team, the way you should be playing; you’re not giving them your best.

“We realized everything we’ve been working for – everything, the revenge on Piedmont, the championship, everything – was all going away for one half so we had to come back out and fight for what we wanted and we had to fight all the way back into this game. We had to find something deep inside of us that we hadn’t found all year. It was just another level.”

It appeared Cardavion Myers had sealed the Bulldogs’ third straight trip to the title game when he scored on a 6-yard run with 1:46 to play to snap a 21-all tie. Then things started happening quickly.

Brody Wortham threw a 64-yard touchdown pass to Tre Terrell with 1:26 left that put the Tigers in position to tie or win it. Instead of going for the tie and potentially overtime, Prestridge went for two and the win and Trent Lane was stuffed for a loss, leaving it 28-27.

“I liked the call,” Wortham said of the attempt. “They always say go for two on the road. We didn’t get it, but the onsides kick bounced our way and we put it in the end zone in less than a minute and a half.”

The Tigers then executed an onside kick. With that new life, a 13-yard run by Aaron Knight and then a 17-yard pass from Wortham to Arterio Hester gave the Tigers the ball at the Bulldog 19.

Knight ran three straight plays down to the Bulldogs 1. With time ticking down, Wortham spiked the ball on third down 4.8 seconds left. The Tigers hadn’t attempted a field goal all season so on fourth-and-goal they ran it and Knight broke through the middle of the line for the game-winning score with 1.6 seconds remaining.

Wortham connected with Andrew Prestridge on the 2-point conversion to put the Tigers up 35-28.

“We got the onside kick and it was a miracle,” Knight said.

The game was eerily similar to the team’s regular-season meeting in Wedowee only in reverse. Randolph County jumped out to a 13-0 halftime lead in that game only to have Piedmont rally for a 41-31 win. And similar to their 2003 title run, the Tigers had beaten a region rival in the semifinals they had lost to in the third game of the regular season.

“(His team) were one or two plays from playing for another state championship,” Piedmont coach Steve Smith said. “I told them in life that’s the way it goes sometimes. It’s a tough, tough pill to swallow. It doesn’t make it any easier, but this is a microcosm of real life. Some days it goes you way, some days it doesn’t. I just hate tonight that we couldn’t have done more from my perspective to give us a better chance to win. That’s just the way the ball bounces sometimes.”

Shannon Fagan, sports editor of the Cherokee County Herald, EA Sports Today content editor Al Muskewitz and EA Sports Today contributor Jeremy Wortham all contributed to this story.

[table id=105 /]

Randolph County 0 0 7 28 — 35
Piedmont 14 7 0 7 — 28

P – T.J. Fairs 67 run (Brant Deerman kick), 11:50 1Q
P – Cardavion Myers 32 run (Brant Deerman kick), 5:57 1Q
P – Lee Stanley 36 pass from Cardavion Myers (Brant Deerman kick), 2:06 2Q
RC – Anterio Hester 38 run (Buck Heard kick), 10:07 3Q
RC – E.J. Clark 5 run (Buck Heard kick), 11:56 4Q
RC – E.J. Clark 9 pass from Aaron Knight (Buck Heard kick), 5:51 4Q
P – Cardavion Myers 3 run (Brant Deerman kick), 1:46 4Q
RC – Tre Terrell 64 pass from Brody Wortham (conversion failed), 1:26 4Q
RC – Aaron Knight 1 run (Andrew Prestridge pass from Brody Wortham), 0:01 4Q

Randolph County’s DaMarcus Davis consoles tearful Piedmont defensive back Jakari Foster (12) after the Bulldogs fell in the state semifinals Friday on a last-second touchdown. (Photo by Greg Warren)

Piedmont’s T.J. Fairs (1) leaves the Randolph County defense behind as he runs for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. (Photo by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

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