Neither team punted in the first half. Greensboro tried and failed to convert on fourth down three times. The Bulldogs missed their first fourth down attempt, and quarterback Chris Strott quickly heard from Smith, then converted twice and scored on their next possession. A three-touchdown explosion late in the second quarter earned Piedmont some breathing room and the Bulldogs eventually downed the Raiders 46-18.
Piedmont kept its record spotless at 7-0 and likely protected its Class 3A No. 1 ranking in next week’s Alabama Sports Writers Association poll. Greensboro, which fell to 5-2, earned a full measure of respect from the Piedmont coaches and players.
“They’re extremely talented,” Smith said of the Raiders. “I think that team has a chance to make a little noise in the south half (of the playoffs).”
Piedmont puts its 6-0 Region 6 record on the line at Saks Friday. Smith said the Wildcats’ 29-19 loss to Weaver, that dropped Saks to 6-1 in Region 6, did nothing to diminish the importance to the game.
“Changes absolutely nothing,” he said. “Clint Smith’s going to tell his guys, ‘We beat Piedmont, we’re the region champions,’ and that’s just what I told our guys, ‘We beat Saks, we’re the region champions.’ We’ve just go to focus and get ready for Saks.”
In the first minute of play, the Raiders recovered a Piedmont fumble at the Piedmont 30-yard line. Junior quarterback Quante Brown completed his first four passes, overcoming two false start penalties, and Greensboro scored four minutes into the game on a 5-yard pass from Brown to Jevontey Smith. After the hot start, it took the Raiders more than 30 minutes of game time to cross Piedmont’s goal line again. By then, the Bulldogs had built a 32-6 advantage.
Greensboro coach Curtis Graves said Piedmont’s ability to convert on third and even fourth downs, keeping his defense on the field, was one factor in the turnaround.
“They also played physical with us, punched us in the mouth,” Graves said. “That’s the first time that’s happened since Bibb County (a loss in Week 1.)”
Trailing 6-0, Piedmont needed only six plays, all on the ground, to go 70 yards and take the lead for good. Consecutive carries for 17 and 38 yards by Sarandon Dunbar took the ball to the 3 and Jamie Major tallied the first of his three rushing touchdowns from there. Dillion Terry, who was 5-for-5 on extra points and added a 30-yard field goal, made it 7-6 with 5:22 still to play in the first quarter.
“We felt like we could get some runs on them but Sarandon is about the only guy we’ve got that can match their quickness,” Smith said. “He gave us a good change up from Jamie and Dalton (Riffey).”
Dunbar finished as the leading ground gainer with 10 carries for 134 yards.
It was still 7-6 when Piedmont held on downs at the Piedmont 28 and began a six-minute scoring drive. The score came on a fourth-and-2 call that sent Strott rolling to the left then flipping the ball to Riffey in the flat coming out of the backfield. Riffey got the first down and more, scoring from 20 yards out when he slipped away from an arm tackle inside the 5.
Greensboro drew a roughing the passer penalty on the play. Kicking off from the Greensboro 45, the Bulldogs went for an onside kick. The football careened away from several players before Piedmont’s Sloan Garner recovered at the Greensboro 32. Four plays later, Riffey scored again — this time on a 14-yard run and Piedmont led 21-6.
Brown threw three consecutive incomplete passes, the Raiders drew another 5-yard penalty and Smith called for Piedmont’s punt block play. The rush flushed Brown into a scramble that ended on the Greensboro 34, seven yards short of a new set of downs with 1:03 left in the half.
Dunbar picked up 31 yards on the first play and Piedmont milked the clock. Major scored on a 2-yard run with five seconds to spare. Greensboro was offside before the kick. Closer to the goal, Piedmont added two more points on a pass from Strott to Riffey.
“That little three-touchdown flurry in the last five minutes was the difference in the ball game,” Smith said.
Terry opened the second half scoring with his field goal with 3:20 left in the third. Brown’s 9-yard pass to Willie Parker made it 32-12 two minutes later. In the fourth quarter, Major scored on a 49-yard run up the middle then Brown and Parker combined again from 12 yards out to cut Piedmont’s lead to 39-18. Dunbar added the final touchdown on a 4-yard run with 4:49 to go.
Brown was 14-for-33 for 147 yards with two interceptions. He netted 88 yards on 17 carries but his teammates added only 41 more rushing yards.
Strott completed six of his 13 attempts for 66 yards without a turnover. Major finished with 91 yards rushing, Strott 53 and Riffey 49.