Piedmont (7-0, 5-0), currently ranked No. 2 in the Alabama Sports Writers Association’s Class 3A poll, has been a region champion each of the past three years. Saks (7-0, 5-0), now ranked No. 7, won its only region title in 2007 while playing in Class 4A. The Wildcats finished second in the region last year after losing to Piedmont 41-7.
Piedmont has rushed for 2,284 yards in its first seven games and passed for an additional 982 yards. Darnell Jackson and Dreek Thompson are the rushing leaders with 429 yards in 29 carries and 414 yards in 36 carries respectively. Five other Bulldogs – Neonta Alexander, Trevaughn Carpenter, Tyler Lusk, Jaret Prater and Tre Reese – are averaging more than 10 yards per carry.
Senior quarterback Ty Sparks has completed 29 of his 48 passes to 633 yards and 11 touchdowns. Lusk, a junior who starts at safety, is 19-for-32 for 323 yards and three touchdowns. Senior Denard Spears has the most catches with 18, good for 334 yards and five scores. Junior C.J. Savage is averaging a team-best 26 yards per reception with 15 catches for 390 yards. Savage has six receiving touchdowns.
On special teams, Savage and Spears each have two touchdowns on punt returns.
Despite all this offensive firepower, Piedmont coach Steve Smith said following the win over Susan Moore he expected a low-scoring game against Saks. Prior to Tuesday’s practice, Smith was sticking to his guns.
“When I say low scoring, I don’t know how low people consider low scoring. I just don’t think it will be in the 40s and 50s like a lot of people think it will just because I think both teams play pretty good defense,” Smith said. “I just think the difference in the game will come down to whoever makes the most defensive stops.”
Piedmont has plenty of weapons on defense, too.
Freshman inside linebacker Taylor Hayes leads Piedmont’s defense with 69 total tackles. Senior lineman Exavyer Jackson has 61 stops and Alexander, a sophomore who starts at inside linebacker, has 57 tackles. Other leaders are linebackers Dalton Barber and Prater with 42 and 37 stops respectively. Reese, an end on defense, and Thompson, a defensive back, have 33 tackles apiece. Linebacker Chase Keener has 27 hits and defensive backs Cody Daughtry and Bayley Blanchard have 26 each. Linemen Payton Young and Ryan Kirk have 24 and 21 tackles respectively.
Alexander and Prater lead in quarterback sacks with three each. Reese and Hayes have two apiece. Darnell Jackson leads in interceptions with three and passes broken up with five. Blanchard has a pair of interceptions. Deven Hincy has broken up three passes. Blanchard, Savage and Thompson have two break ups each.
It didn’t take Piedmont long to establish its superiority over Susan Moore. Susan Moore won the coin toss, elected to receive, ran three plays and punted. Savage returned the punt 60 yards for a touchdown with 9:38 left in the first quarter and Easton Kirk kicked the first of his eight consecutive extra points. Susan Moore punted 10 more times during the game but Piedmont never attempted another return, electing to call for fair catches or let the ball roll.
Another three-and-out by Susan Moore put Piedmont in business at the Piedmont 49-yard line. On first down, Thompson took a handoff around left end and raced down the home sideline for a 14-0 lead.
Once he cleared the line of scrimmage, “I knew,” Thompson said. “There was a speed difference.”
The same could be said of play throughout the night all over the field.
Spears took a speed sweep five yards for the Bulldogs’ third touchdown and Piedmont was on the move again as the first quarter ended.
Looking at second-and-goal from the 1-yard line on the second play of the second quarter, Piedmont went to its “heavy” backfield package. Exavyer Jackson came in at blocking back and senior Caleb Adams moved from his regular spot as the starter at center to tailback. A huge hole opened on the right side of the line and Adams scored standing up. The first touchdown of his high school career made it 28-0 with 11:13 left in the opening half.
Less than two minutes later, Sparks passed to Spears for 35 yards and a 35-0 lead. Before halftime, Darnell Jackson scored on a 19-yard run and Alexander ran for 89 yards and another score. Piedmont led 49-0 at intermission. It could have been worse. Darnell Jackson returned an interception for an apparent touchdown with 10 seconds left in the half but a penalty against Piedmont on the return erased the points.
Smith kept his starting units on the sideline after intermission. The only points of the second half came on a 35-yard run by Carpenter with 9:39 still to play in the third quarter. Savage recovered a fumbled punt to set up Carpenter’s one-play scoring drive.
Official Piedmont stats showed Sparks was 4-for-7 passing for 71 yards. Lusk was 4-for-8 for 84 yards. Blanchard was 3-for-4 for 16 yards. Spears had three catches for 79 yards. Savage caught three passes for 44 yards. Wil Mitchell had two receptions for 12 yards. Thompson had one catch for 22 yards, Daughtry one for 10 and A.J. Fairs one for four.
Alexander ran twice for 97 yards. Thompson had two carries for 54 yards. Darnell Jackson ran four times for 51 yards and Carpenter four times for 45 yards.
Barber and Hayes led the defense with 10 tackles apiece. Exavyer Jackson, Prater and Thompson each made six stops. Jackson’s tackles included three behind the line of scrimmage. Alexander, Hincy, Keener and Young each had four tackles. Daughtry, Reese and Colton Donaldson made three tackles apiece.
Blanchard, Chase Bobbitt, Austin Brazier, Jordan Buttram, Jacob Clark and Tyler Lucas recorded two tackles each. Barber, Bobbitt, Clark, Hayes, Lucas and Young each had one tackle for lost yards. Darnell Jackson broke up three passes in addition to his interception. Hincy had two break ups and Daughtry one.