E.A. Sports Today

Bulldogs sink Pirates

Piedmont plays one of its most complete games of the season, reaches semifinals for seventh straight year

Piedmont quarterback Jack Hayes scores the first of the six touchdowns he accounted for in Friday’s playoff win over Winfield. On the cover, the Piedmont defense converges to swallow up a Winfield ballcarrier. (Photos by Greg Warren)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

PIEDMONT — Post-season experience won’t make any plays on the field, but it can make all the difference when it comes to feeling comfortable in a big game.

Piedmont put its substantial postseason experience to good use Friday night, riding its comfort wave to a 43-14 win over previously unbeaten Winfield in the Class 3A playoffs that coach Steve Smith called one of the team’s most complete games of the year.

Piedmont’s Omarion Foster goes way up to knock down a pass. (Photo by Greg Warren)

The Bulldogs (11-2) advance to play region rival Saks (12-1) on the road Friday for a spot in the Dec. 2 state championship game at Birmingham’s new Protective Stadium. Piedmont beat the Wildcats in their regular-season meeting, but Saks hasn’t lost since.

It’s the seventh year in a row Calhoun County has had at least one team make the state semifinals and the fourth time since 2016 two county teams will play each other for a berth in the title game.

This will be Piedmont’s seventh straight year making it to at least the semifinals. Its current seniors are now 15-2 in postseason play, having played more games quarterfinal round or later coming in than their opponent had played in the playoffs period. Winfield’s seniors came into the game 4-3 in the playoffs.

“That has to play in to account for something, that experience,” Smith said. “The experience itself didn’t make any plays on the field tonight, but for our guys, I don’t think the moment was too big for them because they’ve been there in plenty of games like this before.”

“It’s nothing but another game to us,” said quarterback Jack Hayes, who accounted for all six of Piedmont’s touchdowns. “I would say our experience is what really helped us today.”

The Bulldogs weren’t intimidated by the gaudy numbers Winfield had posted this season. The Pirates, now 12-1, had scored 40 points or more in each of their previous 10 games — 50-plus six times – and outscored their first 12 opponents 549-84.

But Piedmont torched them for more points than they had given up in their previous five games combined and held their offense to two long touchdown runs.

With less than three minutes left in the third quarter the Pirates had only 173 net yards and 116 of them came on the two touchdown runs.

“We played a complete game tonight,” Smith said. “That’s probably as well as we played all year long and I’m very proud of our guys for that.

“You’re in the quarterfinals, playing a team that’s 12-0, ranked No. 3 in the state, you need to play your best game. I thought we really played well tonight. For the most part I thought 95 percent of the night I thought we played extremely well … I had a feeling we were going to come out and play well.”

It almost was a case of the first team to 40 wins. Before Friday, Winfield was 82-1 since 2000 when scoring 40 points or more and Piedmont was 92-1. The Bulldogs had 40 Friday by the end of the third quarter. 

“Just the way we prepared, we knew we were going to come out and execute and move the ball on them,” Hayes said. “And we knew our defense was going to stop them. It was a team effort.”

The Bulldogs moved the ball with ease from their first possession. Their first four plays to gain in the game went for 15, 12, 14 and 21 yards and they now have scored on their opening possession all three rounds of the playoffs. They led 14-0 before Winfield had a first down and were driving for another score when they turned it over inside the Winfield 25.

The Pirates’ first first down was a big one, though. Drew Cook went 55 yards on the first play after Piedmont’s second touchdown and it looked like the shootout was on. But the Bulldogs kept them out of the end zone until late in the third quarter and made a fourth-down stop inside the 5 in the fourth quarter.

“We just came out tonight and played together as a team, as a unit, and did our jobs,” linebacker Landon Smart said. “Everybody relied on each other to do their jobs and we came up on the right side. We played one of our best games of the year. We played great together and hopefully we can play a little bit better next week.”

Hayes continued to climb on AHSAA scoring lists. He accounted for all six of the Bulldogs’ touchdowns in his 43rd career start — three rushing and three passing (to three different receivers all in the third quarter against man coverage). He finished with 173 yards rushing and 141 passing. 

The junior now has 112 career touchdown passes and has accounted for 152 touchdowns in his career. He remains fifth on the “accounted for” list – one behind Alexandria’s Mac Campbell – and fourth on the TD passes list.

“People have made me aware of it and I’ve looked at it before,” Hayes said. “I know that I’m on track for it, but I don’t let it affect my game.”

Piedmont 43, Winfield 14

Winfield (12-1)7070 –14
Piedmont (11-2)147193 –43

P – Jack Hayes 5 run (Sloan Smith kick), 8:45 1Q
P – Jack Hayes 14 run (Sloan Smith kick), 1:06 1Q
W – Drew Cook 55 run (Brooks Smith kick), 0:47 1Q
P – Jack Hayes 1 run (Sloan Smith kick), 1:11 2Q
P – Austin Estes 34 pass from Jack Hayes (Sloan Smith kick), 8:53 3Q
P – Gatlyn Gardner 36 pass from Jack Hayes (kick failed), 6:19 3Q
W – Jaborri McGhee 61 run (Brooks Smith kick), 4:52 3Q
P – Jon Escamiilla 34 pass from Jack Hayes (kick failed), 2:23 3Q
P – Sloan Smith 25 FG, 5:55 4Q

Win (14)Pied (43)
101st Downs28

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