In 2006, the Alabama High School Athletic Association decided to create a showcase event for the start of football season and the ‘Champions Challenge’ was born. The Challenge has become a three-game annual event and is played each August in Montgomery’s Cramton Bowl, a venue with more history than even Legion Field in Birmingham.
This year Piedmont, ranked No. 2 in Class 3A in the annual Alabama Sports Writers Association pre-season poll, will meet Class 4A power Dadeville as part of Saturday’s Champions Challenge doubleheader. The Bulldogs play the Tigers at 5 p.m. in the first game of the day. Both Piedmont and Dadeville have enjoyed amazing success in recent years. The Bulldogs have been to the playoffs in each of coach Steve Smith’s eight seasons as head coach with an 86-18 record under Smith.
Coach Richard White’s Dadeville team missed the playoffs in 2007 but the Tigers have stormed back with a vengeance. Dadeville is 66-9 over the past six seasons with six playoff appearances.
Smith considers Dadeville a quality opponent.
“They’re the No. 3 team in 4A going into the season,” he noted. “I think they’ve won 10 or more games the last six or seven years. They were knocking on the door for playing for a championship last year. I just think it’ll be a good jamboree for us to play because you’re playing against one of those upper echelon teams. It gives you a pretty good idea of what you should expect if you advance deep in the playoffs.”
The Bulldogs will be the visiting team Saturday and will sit on the side of the field opposite the press box, facing the sun. Tickets to the doubleheader Saturday are $10 and are available at the high school office. Buying tickets early allows purchasers to avoid what have been long lines at the Cramton Bowl ticket windows. Spanish Fort and Stanhope Elmore will play in the second game.
Preparation for the Dadeville contest included an intra-squad scrimmage Friday. The offense showed the potential for big plays from a variety of positions. On the first play of the scrimmage, quarterback Tyler Lusk and wide receiver C.J. Savage combined fly pattern that produced a 70-yard touchdown. Running back Dreek Thompson ended the second series with a 34-yard scoring run.
After a short break, Lusk scrambled then completed a long pass downfield to Wil Mitchell at the 18-yard line. A penalty set the offense back five yards before Lusk turned another scramble into a 23-yard touchdown run.
Smith said Lusk, who will be the starter at quarterback, “only took about 15 snaps there but made some good decisions with the ball and made a couple of plays with his feet. I thought he did a good job.”
The fourth series produced the evening’s most spectacular play. Thirty-five yards downfield from Lusk, Savage reached high with his left hand for a one-handed catch that became a 69-yard score.
After another break, Bayley Blanchard shifted from defense to quarterback. His second series ended on a 26-yard scoring pass to Mitchell Bennefield. Trevaughn Carpenter started the drive with a 20-yard run.
Cardavion Myers moved to quarterback after Bennefield’s score. A 20-yard toss from Myers to Derrick Baer produced a first down at the 34-yard line of the defense. Two plays later, Myers and Darian Bosssie combined on a 29-yard touchdown pass. A 70-yard touchdown run by Lee Stanley ended the scoring. Baer is a sophomore while Myers, Bossie and Stanley are freshmen.
“We’ve got some good players that have capabilities of making big plays but you can’t bank on making big plays all the time. … We’re going to have to be consistent. We’ve got to be able to have extended drives,” Smith noted.
The scrimmage created a positive buzz among the 300 to 400 people in attendance and it pleased the Bulldogs’ head man.
“I was encouraged,” Smith said of the outing. “I thought we had some things that were better Friday night, on the offensive side in particular, than it has been being in practice. That was something that I thought was a good thing.”
With Jamie Crutcher the only starter returning, the offensive line had been a rebuilding job in progress. Left tackle Crutcher was joined by Krae Keener at right tackle, Dalton Barber at left guard, Javien Woods at right guard and seniors Jaden Amberson and Josh Minton at center Friday.
“I thought our offensive line had by far their best day of the entire camp. We’ve been struggling to get continuity there but I thought those guys did a really fine job for us the other night,” Smith said prior to Monday’s practice. “I thought Dreek ran the ball well Friday night, too.”