E.A. Sports Today

Playing where needed

Decision to play Sean Smith at tight end in the second half was one of the biggest moves Piedmont made in winning the state championship

Piedmont senior Sean Smith hauls in a key fourth-quarter pass and turns upfield for yardage (inset) during the Bulldogs’ state title game Thursday. (Photos by Greg Warren)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabma Sports Today
AUBURN — The biggest play of Piedmont’s Class 3A state championship win Thursday might not have had anything to do with an exchange between a center and quarterback, but it did lead to a pretty big play.
Rather, it was the decision of Piedmont coach Steve Smith to move his son Sean to tight end in the second half.

The play went for 22 yards and kept a go-ahead touchdown drive alive.

The Bulldogs starting moving the ball some late in the first half but weren’t getting much going offensively and trailed at the break 10-0. Smith used halftime to make adjustments and one of them was putting Sean at tight end. It helped seal the edge and allowed them to hit some big passes, including one to him that kept a touchdown drive on track.
Through it all, the Bulldogs scored 26 points in the second half – 19 in the fourth quarter – and beat Mobile Christian 26-24 at Jordan-Hare Stadium for their third state title in five years.
“It’s the coach’s job to get the right people onto the field at the right time and you just have to believe in them,” Steve Smith said. “You know what they’re made of. Everybody can see from the bleachers what the physical measurements are and things like that, but when you’re around them every day you know their character, you know their guts, you know their heart. I wouldn’t trade our bunch for anybody’s.
“We try our best to not have to play people both ways, we try to play as many kids as we can, but I also made a commitment a long time ago that we weren’t going to go down on the losing side with our better players on the sideline.

“Today, Sean and Bryson (Ingram) had to play offense, Jack (Hayes) had to come in and play some defense there at the end. That’s not a discredit to anybody on the team. It’s just when you have those guys, you don’t leave them on the sideline when you’ve got to have it. We’ve been real particular when we were going to use them this year and there’s no better time than the state championship game to bring them out.”
Sean Smith has played multiple positions in his career – offensive line, defensive line, defensive back, tight end — sometimes all in the same game. Smith to tight end was game-planned from the beginning, but he didn’t want to show it at the beginning because he knew the Leopards would be making halftime adjustments as well.
The second half was the time to pull out all the stops, even if it meant some guys playing somewhere out of the norm.
“I’m going to be honest with you, dad didn’t say anything to me,” Sean said. “He just came up and said ‘Go. Tight end.’ I was like all right, time to go block. I’d been playing defense all game, it was time to go block.”
But he was going to be more than just a blocker. When he has caught a pass it’s usually on a two-point conversion; he’s only been credited with one catch for three yards this season before Thursday. But quarterback Hayes floated one over the top of the linebackers in the fourth quarter and Smith hauled it in for a 22-yard gain that kept the Bulldogs’ first go-ahead touchdown drive alive.
“I was just thinking biggest stage you’ve got to go up and make a play,” he said.
He did and four plays later Hayes scored on a 3-yard run to give the Bulldogs a 20-17 lead with 7:04 to play.
Mobile Christian answered it to retake the lead, then Hayes drove the Bulldogs 66 yards in 11 plays, hitting Jakari Foster on a 27-yard pass for the winning touchdown with 35 seconds left in the game.
Foster missed a chance to make a big play earlier in the game and Coach Smith told him if he wanted to be a big-time player he’d have to make a big play in a big game. Smith choked back tears as he explained of the impact of the catch, saying “that was a pretty big play in a big game” to put the Bulldogs ahead.

“It was one of the most exciting games I’ve ever been a part of,” Steve Smith said. “I can’t say enough good things about our guys today and the resiliency they showed … The second half we found some things that worked, had some guys who played both sides of the ball who hadn’t been doing that all year long and was able to find a little something to get some advantages there and were able to put some points on the board. Never been prouder of a group in my life.”

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