The final was 55-7 after the home team led 55-0 at halftime. Piedmont began inserting reserves in the second quarter. The starters, who normally play one second-half series on offense and one on defense even in blowouts, never saw the field after intermission.
“I thought our kids were really crisp in the first half,” Piedmont coach Steve Smith said. “We didn’t turn it over. We created about four turnovers, had the punt return for a touchdown.”
The win sets the stage for Friday’s game at Leeds. Piedmont (4-0) will be trying to keep its No. 2 ranking in the Class 3A Alabama Sports Writers Association poll. Leeds wants to climb back toward the top after losing to Trinity Presbyterian in Week 2. Piedmont won a 7-0 defensive struggle last year in Piedmont.
“Next week will be an old-fashioned slugfest,” Smith said. “Leeds, they pride themselves on defense and being physical and we feel like we’ve got a good defense and like to get to the ball and hit. I definitely think it will be a fun affair.”
Piedmont was certainly the more physical team in its win over Cleveland. The Bulldogs caused and recovered two fumbles. Cleveland had 12 rushing yards, no passing yards, no first downs and three interceptions when Piedmont’s second defense took the field with about eight minutes left in the second quarter. At that point, the Bulldogs led 42-0.
Smith said he felt the turning point of the game was Cleveland coach Gardner Gilliland’s decision not to play his son, Peyton, normally the starter for the Panthers at quarterback and safety. Smith said the sophomore had gained 100 yards both rushing and passing in each of Cleveland’s first three wins. The younger Gilliland had been battling quad injuries he suffered in last week’a 29-0 win over Ashville.
“I can’t overstate it. He’s a fine player. He’s what makes them run if you look at their first three games. You take that kind of player away from any team and they’re obviously a little bit handcuffed,” Smith said.
While little went right for Cleveland, Piedmont had one of those games when virtually nothing went wrong. The Bulldogs started on offense and needed just six plays to move 63 yards. Wide receiver Denard Spears took a short pass from quarterback Ty Sparks and ran 20 yards for the touchdown. Exavyer Jackson’s kick made it 7-0 three minutes into the contest.
Cleveland ran three plays and punted. Spears took the punt, faked a reverse, then cut back across the field and down the home sideline for a 72-yard scoring return. The extra point missed but the Bulldogs were on the prowl with a 13-0 edge.
Piedmont lost the ball on downs on its next possession after a fake punt came up short of first-down yardage. Smith said the play was put into the plan for Cleveland and the lack of success was the only negative he could point to in the game.
The Panthers kept the ball for one play, an interception by safety Tyler Lusk at the Piedmont 23-yard line. A short pass by Lusk to C.J. Savage that eventually covered 38 yards produced the score. Easton Kirk made the extra point.
The first of two interceptions by safety Bayley Blanchard led to an 8-yard run by Dreek Thompson to make it 26-0.
In the second quarter, Piedmont got a safety then a 54-yard touchdown pass from Sparks to Cody Daughtry for a 35-0 advantage. After Blanchard’s second pick, Darnell Jackson ran 13 yards for another Piedmont score.
Jaret Prater recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and ran it in from 14 yards out to make the score 48-0 less than three minutes into the second quarter. Five minutes later, Prater, normally a linebacker, scored Piedmont’s final touchdown on a 85-yard run around left end.