Cordova was looking for payback. Piedmont proved last year’s championship game victory was no fluke, measuring the Blue Devils 28-21 Friday at its Field of Champions.
“They probably thought they were going to come down here on our home field and make a statement,” Bulldog senior Jamaal Johnson said. “Our team just wasn’t going to let them do that.”
Piedmont (11-1) advances to a third consecutive home game Friday. Plainview (8-3), a 17-3 winner over Pisgah, will challenge the Bulldogs in the quarterfinal round.
Johnson was a big factor in Piedmont’s success, on offense and defense. Johnson caught passes for both Piedmont’s first-half touchdowns then ran for the third. His interception with 40.5 seconds to play ended any hope Cordova had of a last-minute rally.
“I gave my all,” Johnson said. “I just hoped my teammates would do the same thing.”
Piedmont never led by more than seven points but the Bulldogs never trailed.
“That was a big thing for us. I felt like it was big that each time that they scored our offense responded,” Piedmont coach Steve Smith said.
Sophomore running back Jamie Major delivered the final response after Cordova (10-2) knotted the score at 21-all with 7:12 to play. The Blue Devils moved 65 yards in four plays in just more than two minutes, sending the visiting crowd into a frenzy of expectation.
A fair catch on the kickoff put Piedmont in business at the Piedmont 25-yard line. Major took a handoff through at left tackle, cut back behind a downfield block by Noah Willis and outran the Cordova secondary for 75 yards and what proved to be the winning score. The fourth of Chris Strott’s four extra points put Piedmont ahead to stay with 6:56 to go.
Smith said the play, an off-tackle sweep to the weak side, was one the coaches discussed at halftime then saved for the right moment. When Cordova began overloading its defense to Piedmont’s two-receiver side, Smith sensed the time had arrived.
“It worked like a charm,” Smith said.
Over the final six minutes, the Bulldogs held on downs to end one Cordova possession and nabbed two interceptions, the first by Noah Willis with 2:36 remaining and the second by Johnson.
On the first stop, linebackers Collin Bradley and Dalton Riffey dropped 2,000-yard rusher Cody Staten for no gain one a fourth-and-1 with 4:48 to go. Piedmont milked almost two minutes off the clock but couldn’t get a first down and had to punt. The Bulldogs ran three plays and punted after Willis’ pick, too.
“When one side doesn’t get it done, the other side has to pick them up,” Smith said of the late work of the defense.
Offense carried the Bulldogs early. Piedmont held the ball for the game’s first nine minutes, moving 80 yards in 16 plays. Quarterback Strott kept the first downs rolling with back-to-back 19-yard completions to Johnson on third-and-long calls then finished the drive with a 4-yard completion to Johnson on a fade route.
Strott and Johnson combined on the same play, this time for 25 yards, to put Piedmont ahead 14-7 with 2:38 left in the second quarter. By halftime, it was 14-all.
Piedmont held on downs on each of Cordova’s first two possessions of the second half. Ten seconds into the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs began a drive at the Piedmont 35. A 24-yard run by Major and a 23-yard gain on a pass from Strott to Sloan Garner got the ball inside the 10 and Johnson scored on a 5-yard run from a power I look with 9:24 still to play.
Strott was 15-for-19 passing for 176 yards, 11-for-12 for 111 in the first half, and gave up one interception. Cordova reached him only once for a sack.
“We’ve opened it up a little bit more in the last couple of weeks and he’s just made play after play,” Smith said.
“I just stay in the pocket until I feel pressure,” Strott said. “Our line did a heck of a job blocking tonight.”
Johnson had six receptions for 89 yards, all in the first half. Willis caught four tosses for 46 yards and Garner had four receptions for 35 yards. Major rushed for 123 yards on 10 carries. Derrick Jackson’s six carries netted 39 yards.
Staten ran 25 times for 195 yards and scored Cordova’s initial touchdown on a 45-yard run midway through the second quarter. The Blue Devils’ final two scores came on passes for reserve quarterback Christopher Kilpatrick to Maleki Harris.
Cordova’s prospects were lessen when starting quarterback Jake Howton, a threat both running and passing, was injured with about four minutes left in the second quarter. Howton said he broke his ankle on defense when his cleats hung as he twisted to follow a receiver.
“It was unfortunate for him and unfortunate for them that his season ended that way,” said Smith, noting that Howton’s departure took the option game away from Cordova’s offense.