AUBURN — Piedmont made it their goal all season, and on Thursday at Jordan-Hare Stadium, the Bulldogs hoisted the symbol of all that work high above their heads.
With a 22-12 win against Mobile Christian in the Class 3A title game Thursday, Piedmont completed its goal of winning back-to-back state championships and finishing with an undefeated season for the first time in school history.
“It was huge for our kids to finish this off,” Piedmont head coach Steve Smith said. “We were the team that everybody was shooting for this year. We got everybody’s best shot. It’s very difficult to get through an entire season and not have a letdown game. They withstood every challenge, and I’m very, very proud of them.”
The win gives the school three state championships since 2009 and tied Madison Academy and Pike County with the most Class 3A state titles. It’s also the first time a team from Calhoun County has won consecutive state titles since Oxford in 1988-89.
Piedmont got the win Thursday the way they have all season, which was relying on a powerful running game from Taylor Hayes and on a stout defense to stop the opposing rushing attack.
Hayes didn’t disappoint with his performance. He finished the game with 38 carries for 239 yards and three touchdowns, which earned him state championship game MVP honors for the second year in a row.
Smith grew emotional afterward in describing Hayes’ best attribute as his desire to win. Hayes said that desire was more than usual.
“I’ve been with Coach Smith and this team since I was in fourth grade as a manager and I was going to do anything it took to get a win today,” Hayes said.
The defense also played one of its best game of the year as they held Mobile Christian to just 27 rushing yards, which set a record for the fewest rushing yards allowed in Super 7 championship history.
“I’m so proud of our guys,” Smith said. “We played to our strengths and did our best to play good defense and control the ball. We leaned on our big guys.”
The game started a little shaky for the Bulldogs. Mobile Christian scored first on a 42-yard pass from Cam Horne to Eric Poellnitz with 2:21 left in the first quarter. Piedmont’s Cardavion Myers blocked the extra point to keep the score at 6-0.
It didn’t take long for Hayes to answer back as he broke free for a 65-yard run and broke several tackles along the way before being brought down from behind.
Hayes then tied the game with a 1-yard run to open the second quarter. Easton Kirk gave Piedmont a 7-6 lead with the extra point.
Hayes scored again with 1:14 left in the half on a 2-yard run. He also converted the two-point conversion to make the halftime score 15-6.
The third quarter was all Piedmont. After the first drive stalled, Piedmont’s defense got the ball back for the offense, which then went on a 14-play, 81-yard scoring drive that took 7:05 off the clock. The drive stretched into the fourth quarter when Hayes scored on a 2-yard run with 10:39 remaining. Kirk added the point after for a 22-6 lead.
With 5:19 remaining Piedmont attempted to put the game out of reach by going for a fourth-and-goal from the 6. However, Carter picked off Hayes’ pass and returned 38 yards. Mobile Christian capitalized on the turnover by scoring on a 37-yard pass from Horne to Jordan Graddy. The two-point try failed, and Piedmont recovered the onside kick.
The Bulldogs then ran out the remainder of the clock to ice the victory.
“This is a surreal feeling,” senior Cobey McFry said. “We’ve worked hard every week for this, and it’s finally paid off for us. We did all we could today.”
Smith was proud of the way his team handled the early adversity to complete their goal.
“Our guys didn’t panic,” Smith said. “We got behind 14-0 in the third round against Weaver and came back. We had been there before and the guys kept their composure.”
This story will be updated, and The Anniston Star also will post more news and analysis from Piedmont's historic win.