The seventh-ranked Wildcats used two fumble recoveries, a pair of interceptions, a blocked punt and multiple defensive stops to upset second-ranked Piedmont 40-15 and win its first region title since 2007.
“I’ve never been more proud of a group of kids,” Saks coach Jonathan Miller said. “All day, we had a calmness about us, and our kids were confident. Anytime you play a good game, you worry about that type of stuff, and I was worried about their outlook for the day, but they played a heck of a game tonight.”
The calmness continued throughout the first quarter when neither team was able to get much going on offense. However, Saks got on the board with 4:31 left in the first half.
The touchdown came on a 1-yard sneak by quarterback Tre Smith, as the Wildcats’ offense picked up where the defense left off.
The ensuing kickoff was fumbled by Piedmont and picked up by Roc Green, giving Saks the ball on the Bulldog 10-yard line. Seven plays later Devontae Young scored the first of his three touchdowns to give Saks a 12-0 lead.
Piedmont was able to rebound immediately, with Ty Sparks hitting Denard Spears twice. The first completion went for 31 yards and the second was a 35-yard touchdown pass.
However, that was all Saks’ defense allowed, as the Wildcats went into the half with a 12-6 lead.
“The one thing we did was give them trouble running the ball,” Miller said. “They’ve been great all year running the ball. I can’t say enough about our defensive line and linebackers.”
Saks took over the second half fairly quickly with Rashard Williams blocking Piedmont’s punt after the Bulldogs’ first drive stalled. The block gave Saks the ball on the 10-yard line, and Smith hit Darion Coleman for a touchdown pass on the next play.
“Coming into the game we were going to put the ball in Tre’s hands as much as possible,” Miller said. “We were able to do that and Tre did a great job. Guys like Devin Harris, Davontae Young and Calvin Figueroa all had big nights running the football.”
The Wildcats (8-0, 6-0 Class 3A, Region 5) took advantage of another mistake as Will Curry recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff. Although Saks didn’t score on its next drive, it marked another miscue by Piedmont.
“I think we lost our composure a little bit, but Saks had a lot to do with that,” Piedmont coach Steve Smith said. “They were making plays and we were turning it over. We weren’t ready to play tonight and I’ll take full responsibility for that.”
After Young added his second touchdown of the night, making the score 26-6, Saks’ defense continued dominating, with Green intercepting a pass on Piedmont’s ensuing drive.
However, it was Piedmont’s defense that stepped up big, causing a safety a play after Green interception gave Saks the ball on the 1-yard line.
Piedmont (7-1, 5-1) saw some success on offense in the fourth quarter when quarterback Ty Sparks led the Bulldogs 55 yards down the field, hitting Dreek Thompson on a 20-yard touchdown pass. Sparks finished with 199 passing yards and two scores.
With the score 25-16 in Saks’ favor with 7:14 left in the game, the Wildcats gave what Miller called the biggest crowd he’s seen in his 12 years at Saks several things to cheer for. Young scored on Saks ensuing drive, Tyler Burnett intercepted a pass on Piedmont’s next drive and Calvin Figueroa capped off the Wildcats’ last score with a 12-yard run.
Spears finished with 11 receptions for 144 yards for Piedmont. Saks was led by Smith, who threw for 178 yards on 8-of-12 passing. He added 47 yards on the ground. Coleman recorded 128 yards in receptions, and Young rushed for 94 yards.