E.A. Sports Today

Back in the finals

Piedmont heading to Class 3A title game for fourth time in five years after avenging earlier loss to Wellborn

Piedmont’s Max Hanson celebrates with lineman Hayden Young after scoring the game’s first touchdown. (Photo by Jeremy Wortham)

By Shannon Fagan
Special to East Alabama Sports Today

A little over a month ago, much was made of Wellborn’s bizarre punt return for a touchdown that helped propel the Panthers to their first victory over Piedmont since 1971. In the rematch Friday in the Class 3A state football semifinals, another punt return proved crucial — only this time it wasn’t as bizarre, and it went in favor of the fifth-ranked Bulldogs. 

With 3:35 remaining in the first half and the Bulldogs up by a touchdown, Wellborn’s defense had forced Piedmont into a three-and-out at the Bulldog. Panther return man Calvin Spinks was backed up inside the Wellborn 10 to receive the punt. 

Spinks hesitantly fielded the kick and fumbled. Piedmont’s Trey MacFarland recovered the loose football at the Panther 4. 

Following a Bulldog 5-yard penalty that backed the ball up the 9, freshman quarterback Jack Hayes found senior receiver Silas Thompson for a touchdown to put Piedmont up by two scores. It was part of 27 unanswered points in a 41-7 victory.
The win secures Piedmont’s fifth state championship game appearance since 2009 and its third in four years. The Bulldogs (13-1) will face Mobile Christian (9-4) Thursday at 11 a.m. in Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium in a rematch of the 2016 3A title game, won by Piedmont 22-12.
“One of the things we said early in the week was we really had to focus on special teams, which I thought we were really solid tonight aside from the one missed extra point,” Piedmont coach Steve Smith said. “We were really solid covering kicks.
“That was a big play. We talked about turnovers. We had that fumble there and we had a pass interception. I don’t think we turned it over any, so when you’ve got evenly-matched teams and you win the turnover battle and you’re solid in your special teams … I’m just real proud of our effort.”

Wellborn coach Jeff Smith said he’d wished the sixth-ranked Panthers (12-2) would have responded a little better. 

“We got down a little bit tonight and I didn’t feel like we responded like we should have,” he said. “They got on us early and got the upper hand on us. We had to get out of our game plan and had to do some things we weren’t comfortable doing. We were playing from behind. We came out in the second half and had a good stop. It was 21-7 right there, but we weren’t able to capitalize. I think that’s what really turned the game right then.”

Piedmont’s Silas Thompson snatches his second-quarter touchdown from the hands of Wellborn defender Khavion Wesley. (Photo by Jeremy Wortham)

After Wellborn went three-and-out to begin the game, Piedmont took its opening possession of the game and marched 75 yards in 13 plays, capped off by a 4-yard touchdown Hayes toss to fellow freshman Max Hanson. Bryce Mohon’s extra point gave the Bulldogs a 7-0 advantage with 5:13 to go in the first quarter. 

It took just six plays for Wellborn to respond. Panthers quarterback Jett Smith connected with sophomore Tanner McQueen on a 53-yard pass to set Wellborn up at Piedmont’s 15. Jett Smith capped the drive with a 12-yard touchdown run. Brandon Morales Ramirez’s point after tied the game at 7. 

Piedmont appeared as if it would go back out in front after marching inside the Wellborn 5, but the Panther defense forced three straight Hayes incompletions and took over on downs. 

However, Wellborn’s offense couldn’t get out of the shadow of its own end zone and was forced to punt. This time, Piedmont punched it in to regain the lead. Hayes scored on a 1-yard run to put the Bulldogs back out in front 14-7 with 6:38 remaining in the first half. 

The two teams traded punts, with the latter yielding the Spinks fumble which was recovered by the Bulldogs’ MacFarland inside the 5. Two plays later, Piedmont went up 21-7 on the Hayes-to-Thompson connection. 

“It was big going in right before the half with that touchdown,” said Hayes, who completed 12 of 28 passes for 143 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 114 yards on 15 carries and two scores. “The momentum we had after that, it just kept going after halftime.”

Piedmont had a chance to score once more before the half ended, but Walter missed a 31-yard field goal as time expired. 

After the Panthers stopped Piedmont on the opening possession of the second half, Jett Smith was intercepted by Brant Deerman, and Piedmont’s offense set up at the Wellborn 40. Six plays after the turnover, Hayes scored on a 14-yard run. 
The Bulldog defense partially blocked a Jett Smith punt on Wellborn’s next possession, giving Piedmont the ball at the 23. Two plays later, junior Elijah Johnson scored on a 20-yard run, putting Piedmont up 34-7 after three quarters.
Johnson added a 29-yard score with 6:50 to go in the fourth for the final. He finished with 115 yards on 11 carries with two touchdowns. 

“I just had to step up and do my job; I had to get us where we needed to be,” Johnson said. “After we got that fumble (on the punt return in the second quarter), Coach said we’re just going to run it down their throat and just keep punching them.
“I’m glad to be back at Auburn again. Last year we lost (to Flomaton) and this year we can redeem ourselves. Everybody has been saying we’re a young team, but that didn’t stop us this year.”

It’s the fifth straight year Region 6 and Region 1 will face off for the state title.

2019: Piedmont vs. Mobile Christian
2018: Flomaton 23, Piedmont 12
2017: Hillcrest-Evergreen 26, Randolph County 14
2016: Piedmont 22, Mobile Christian 12
2015: Piedmont 44, Bayside Academy 7

“We’ve got a little chip on our shoulder going down there (to Auburn),” junior defensive end Sean Smith said. “I’ve still got that feeling in my gut from last year. All we can we do is just go down there, play Piedmont football and just see what happens.”

Shannon Fagan is sports editor of the Cherokee County Herald. EA Sports Today correspondent Jeremy Wortham contributed to this report.

Piedmont 41, Wellborn 7
Wellborn               7               0               0             0               –                7
Piedmont              7               14            13            7               –                41
Scoring plays
P – Max Hanson 4 pass from Jack Hayes (Bryce Mohon kick), 5:13 1Q
W – Jett Smith 12 run (Brandon Morales Ramirez kick), 2:01 1Q
P – Jack Hayes 3 run (Bryce Mohon kick), 6:38 2Q
P – Silas Thompson 9 pass from Jack Hayes (Bryce Mohon kick), 3:21 2Q
P – Jack Hayes 12 run (kick failed), 2:48 3Q
P – Elijah Johnson 20 run (Bryce Mohon kick), 0:08 3Q
P – Elijah Johnson 23 run (Bryce Mohon kick), 6:50 4Q

Piedmont quarterback Jack Hayes (7) tumbles into the end zone with one of his two touchdowns Friday night. (Photo by Jeremy Wortham)

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