E.A. Sports Today

Piedmont survives

Pair of blocked PATs in second half help Bulldogs gets past Westminster Christian, set up rematch with Randolph County

Piedmont’s T.J. Fairs (1) makes a catch against Westminster Christian in the first half, but late in the game he blocked an extra point to preserve the Bulldogs’ victory. On the cover he leads the way for Carl Myers. (Photos by B.J. Franklin)

By John Mitchell
For East Alabama Sports Today

PIEDMONT – A pair of blocked extra points in the second half helped Piedmont survive Westminster Christian 27-26 in the quarterfinals of the Class 3A playoffs Friday night.

The second, by senior wide receiver T.J. Fairs, came with just 3:34 left in the fourth quarter and ultimately proved to be the difference as the Bulldogs escaped with a one-point victory to advance to the state semifinals and a rematch with region rival Randolph County.

“I’m glad my teammates had the will to keep fighting,” Fairs said. “I had to give it my all for them so we wouldn’t have to go into overtime.”

Piedmont quarterback Mason Mohon (4) ran for two touchdowns in the first half and threw for one in the fourth quarter. (Photo by B.J. Franklin)

Fairs came racing off the edge like he was shot out of a cannon, perfectly timing the snap and blowing past the Westminster offensive line to get his hands on the ball and prevent the Wildcats from tying the game.

“T.J.’s so quick coming off the edge,” Piedmont coach Steve Smith said. “It’s one of the things he does really well. He needed to make a play for his team right there and he got it done.”

The fans at The Field of Champions got a game befitting that of a quarterfinal matchup in the state playoffs. It was a back-and-forth fight from the very beginning, with Piedmont playing from behind for most of the first three quarters before finally breaking through.

Westminster delivered the first body blow, an eight-play touchdown drive that saw Piedmont offer little resistance as the Wildcats grabbed an early 7-0 lead.

The Bulldogs responded with a methodical touchdown drive of their own, capped by a 1-yard touchdown run by senior quarterback Mason Mohon to pull the game within one point after a failed two-point conversion attempt.

Mohon scored his second rushing touchdown in the second quarter to bring Piedmont within 14-12 at halftime. Westminster had a chance to extend its lead late in the second, but Piedmont sophomore defensive back Jakari Foster picked off an Ian Thies pass in the end zone to keep the Bulldogs within two points.

Piedmont looked out of sorts defensively in the first half, as it gave up chunk play after chunk play to Thies and bouldering senior running back Connor Hayes. Even trailing by only two, the Bulldogs felt very much on the ropes.

“Our ability to run the ball in the first half when they were going up and down the field in chunks slowed the game down a little bit,” said Smith. “We were able to minimize possessions in the first half until we could get our wits about us and make a few adjustments.”

The adjustments looked scarce as Thies scored on a rushing touchdown early in the third quarter to extend Westminster’s lead to 20-12, but a Piedmont lineman got a hand on the ball on the extra point attempt to keep it a one-possession game.

Trailing by eight, the Bulldogs leaned on senior Kaedon Jenkins, who broke through for a 58-yard touchdown that tied the game after the two-point conversion. Jenkins was the bell-cow for Piedmont’s offense, amassing 192 rushing yards on 19 carries. He also intercepted a pass in the second half on defense.

“We’ve been kind of a running back by committee for most of the year,” said Smith. “Tonight the things they were giving us were conducive to us putting it in (Jenkins’) hands a little bit more than normal and he had some big runs for us there.”

Piedmont took its first lead of the game early in the fourth quarter after driving down the field on the backs of Jenkins and Fairs, who both ripped off big runs to put their team in scoring position. Mohon hit big receiver Delo Foster for a 9-yard touchdown to put the Bulldogs up 27-20.

It was then Piedmont’s defense finally rose to the occasion and made a critical stop. Several big passes from Thies, who finished with more than 300 yards through the air, got Westminster all the way down to the 4 looking to tie the game up. On fourth down from the 4, the Bulldogs blew up a Thies running play to deny the Wildcats and get a turnover on downs.

Piedmont’s Jakari Foster (2) breaks up a pass intended for Westminster’s Sam Sheppard in the red zone in the first half. (Photo by B.J. Franklin)

“We twisted inside on that,” said Smith. “Our backside defensive end got down on the quarterback and the guy on the front side took it on well, and we got good pursuit down the line to get him down for no gain.”

Smith wanted desperately to control the ball and score again to keep it out of Thies’ hands, but Westminster was able to get a stop to give its quarterback another shot. Thies made the most of it, throwing a dart to junior Jackson Billings, who raced toward the end zone for a 73-yard touchdown with only 3:34 to play.

That’s when Fairs made the play of the game, racing off the edge and blocking the extra point attempt to preserve the Piedmont lead, and ultimately the victory.
“It’s a team sport,” said Fairs. “We’ve got to have all 11 guys on the same page in order for the play to work out.”

The win advanced Piedmont back to the state semifinals for the fourth year in a row, with a familiar foe waiting for them. Fellow Region 6 member Randolph County defeated Saks 19-8 to set up the anticipated rematch between the Tigers and Bulldogs.

This season’s script reads eerily similar to last season’s, as Piedmont defeated Randolph County in the regular season before meeting them at the Field of Champions in the semifinals in 2017. The Tigers got the better of that rematch, advancing to the State Championship game where they lost to Hillcrest.

This season, Piedmont defeated Randolph County on the road in September, but the Tigers have been a different team since a midseason revitalization.

“Randolph County has a great team,” said Smith. “For them to be back in this position doesn’t surprise me a bit. They had some adversity at the beginning of the year and Coach (Pat) Prestridge has done a great job pulling those guys together.”

Piedmont 27, Westminster Christian 26
Team Stats West Pied

First downs 20 19
Rushes-yds 31-136 48-333
Passes 19-27-2 5-7-0
Passing yds 303 67
Fumbles-lost 0-0 1-0
Punts-avg 2-40.0 4-39.2
Penalties-yds 4-30 4-30

Scoring summary
Westminster 7 7 6 6 – 26
Piedmont 6 6 8 7 – 27

W – Jackson Billings 16 pass from Ian Thies (Cade Rawlings kick), 9:25 1Q
P – Mason Mohon 4 run (pass failed), 5:17 1Q
W – Ian Thies 1 run (Cade Rawlings kick), 8:15 2Q
P – Mason Mohon 5 run (run failed), 3:35 2Q
W – Ian Thies 1 run (kick blocked), 5:51 3Q
P – Kaedon Jenkins 58 run (Mason Mohon run), 5:32 3Q
P – Delo Foster 9 pass from Mason Mohon (Brant Deerman kick), 11:55 4Q
W – Jackson Billings 73 pass from Ian Thies (kick blocked), 3:34 4Q

Piedmont’s Bryson Ingram (53) closes in on Westminster quarterback Ian Thies. To see a gallery of photos from the game, visit www.bjfranklin.smugmug.com. (Photo by B.J. Franklin)

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