When Class 3A’s No. 1 Piedmont and No. 2 Leeds step on the field tonight, it may be a little more than the two coaches thought it’d turn out to be eight months ago when the two scheduled the contest.
“We didn’t have to play this game, Leeds didn’t have to play this game,” Smith said, “but we both chose to play it. ... we’re both excited to play against a quality opponent. It’s turned into something pretty big.”
This isn’t the first time Smith has led Piedmont and Keith Etheredge has taken Leeds into a big game against the other, though. In fact, the winner of the past two regular-season meetings has gone on to win the state championship.
In 2008, renewing the series for the first time since 1929, the Green Wave won both games with the second being in the third round of the playoffs.
The following year, despite losing the regular-season contest, the Bulldogs beat Leeds 13-7 in the semifinals before winning the title. The Green Wave responded in 2010 with another state championship.
“In the past, it’s always meant so much for region championship, for state championships, things like that,” Etheredge said. “It’s going to be interesting to see when there’s not all that emphasis on what it does for you and how the kids are going to respond. Really this game is nothing more than bragging rights, rankings and stuff like that.”
Despite Thursday’s contest being a non-region game, implications of the winner winning the state championship are there with both teams being ranked at the top of the polls with 4-0 records. However, unlike in the past, a loss would not affect either team much.
“We and Piedmont are in different regions now—they’re in the north, we’re in the south — so the only time we’d ever play each other would be in the state championship game if we were to meet again,” Etheredge noted. “I hope we end up playing each other again.”
Piedmont’s spread offense, which is averaging more than 41 points per game, and the Green Wave’s power-I running game are taking a backseat to the great defensive matchup this game creates.
“We feel like we have some playmakers on our offensive side, and I know Leeds has some playmakers on their offense, too,” Smith said. “Both our teams consider their stars to be the defense, though.”
Scouting the Bulldogs, Etheredge said it’s hard trying to find weaknesses in the Piedmont defense.
“Right now, Piedmont is the best,” he said. “They’re very good defensively. They’re a lot better defensively than I’ve seen them. They’re going to do what they do and do it well.
“They’re explosively offensively, too,” Etheredge added. “They’ve got so many backs that can take it to the house. They have four or five backs that can break one at anytime.”
Smith said he believe Leeds, who is averaging just more than 22 point per game, has been playing more of a “ball-controlling, time-consuming offense,” and said he thinks the Green Wave could score more points that they have been if they choose to.
“We just have to do our job,” Smith said. “It comes down to a matter of execution. It’s coach talk and a cliché, but it’s probably going to come down to whichever team makes the fewest mistakes.”
With coaches and older players of both teams having experienced victories on the biggest stage of 3A football, Smith said he enjoys facing competition like what Leeds will bring Thursday night.
“They got the better end of it three of the four times we played,” he said. “It’s one of those things that we know what’s in front of us and we know it’s a challenge.”
Sports Writer Brandon Miller: 256-235-3575. On Twitter @bmiller_star.