“It wasn’t anything special, it wasn’t anything pretty,” said Smith, who guided Piedmont to its only state championship last season. “They were just very solid.”
Piedmont improved its record to 7-1 overall and 7-0 against Class 3A, Region 6 competition limiting Saks to just 138 yards of offense for the game.
“I thought we defended exceptionally well,” Smith said. “With a team with as many playmakers as Saks, they’re going to make some plays. In the first half they were getting 10-12 yards gains. They were getting a lot of yards after the first contact. They were breaking tackles. In the second half, I think we did a better job of wrapping up.”
Junior quarterback Chris Strott led the way for the Bulldogs offensively, accounting for all of their points on two touchdowns, a pair of successful extra-point tries and a field goal.
His 18-yard run right up the middle out of the shotgun with 14.2 seconds to play in the second quarter broke a scoreless tie. Then he added the point after attempt to give the Bulldogs a 7-0 lead going into the half.
A bad snap on fourth down on the Wildcats first possession of the second half led to a 23-yard loss and gave the Bulldogs the ball on the Saks’ 13-yard line.
Saks’ defense didn’t give up a touchdown on the ensuing drive but Strott’s 24-yard field goal with 6:19 to play in the third gave Piedmont a 10-0 lead, making it a two-possession game for the Wildcats.
It was all the cushion the Bulldogs — the defending Class 3A state champions — would need.
Piedmont’s defense clamped down like a staple gun for the rest of the game, holding Saks to just 36 yards and two first downs in the second half. They dominated the line of scrimmage, led by 6-foot-1, 308-pound all-state senior defensive tackle Mickey Jackson and a breakout performance by junior Quadree Wood.
“We knew they were good up front,” Saks coach Clint Smith said. “They’ve got Big Mick (Jackson) and they move him around a lot. We were still able to have success moving the ball early but we have one bad play to ruin the drive. We didn’t take advantage of our opportunities and you’ve got to do that against a good team like Piedmont.”
Saks reached the Piedmont 13 and 22-lines on drives in the first half but came away empty on both occasions.
Now, the Wildcats (4-4, 4-4) need help to have a chance at qualifying for the playoffs. They have the week off before traveling to Clay County for their regular season finale on Oct. 29th.
Piedmont forced Saks into a three-and-out series following Strott’s touchdown run and got the ball on the Wildcats’ 41. Strott struck again after a 13-yard run by tailback Derrick Jackson, this time reaching the end zone from 27 yards on what looked like an identical play call from his first score to put Piedmont up 17-0 with 3:49 left in the third.
“It was a designed run,” Strott said of his touchdown runs. “Jamie (Major) came up and I read his block. It worked perfect those two times. We ran it multiple times but on those two plays, I saw nothing but grass.”
Strott finished with 79 yards on 11 carries and completed 5 of 12 passes for 34 yards with an interception. Derrick gained 80 yards on 13 carries while Jamaal Johnson added 45 yards and Major contributed 42 yards.
The win comes after Piedmont had its 13-game winning streak snapped in a 43-42 double-overtime affair last Thursday at Class 5A Gulf Shores. Steve Smith said he knew his team was focused and ready to put the blemish behind them after a meeting with his coaches to watch film this past Sunday.
“We knew we had to step it up,” Mickey said. “We knew it was mostly because of the defense that we lost last week. We had a good week of practice and we had to come out, win this thing and close out the region championship.”
Piedmont visits Ashville next week.
Piedmont’s Noah Willis and Saks’s Brandon Johnson both recorded interceptions.
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575. Follow him on Twitter @birds_word.