AUBURN — Steve Smith knew it was going to take two things for his team to be successful in Thursday’s Class 3A state championship game against Mobile Christian — run the ball and stop the run.
Piedmont did the latter better than anyone in Super 7 championship history.
In their 22-12 win, The Bulldogs held Mobile Christian to just 27 rushing yards, which is the fewest any team has allowed at the Super 7.
After falling behind 6-0 early, the defense dominated the game until Mobile Christian added a touchdown on a 37-yard pass in the fourth quarter. If not for the Leopards’ big plays in the passing game, the Bulldogs may have pitched a shutout.
“After the first quarter, I felt like our front three really dominated their offensive line and our linebackers made some really big plays,” said linebacker Austin Brazier, who finished with six tackles (four solo) and one tackle for a loss.
Mobile Christian brought plenty of talent to Jordan-Hare Stadium, including running back Troy Young, who is committed to play football at Arizona. The Bulldogs’ held him to 15 yards on seven carries.
“Mobile Christian is a heck of ball team,” linebacker Chase Bobbitt said. “It all starts with the defensive line, this line we’ve got are men. They’re making plays, which makes them get double teamed and that frees up me and the other linebackers. They got us on a couple of pass plays, but our defensive backs made some great tackles to save us.”
Defensive back Cardavion Myers led the unit with seven tackles and six solo tackles. Nose tackle Logan Beadles had five tackles (three solo) and a tackle for a loss. Bobbitt had a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in the second quarter. Cobey McFry had three tackles and a tackle for a loss. Matt Thorton and Gavin Kircus each had a sack.
McFry said this defense has been making plays like they did Thursday all season.
“It’s unreal,” McFry said. “It’s hard to put your finger on what makes this defense so good, but I always see everybody swarming to the ball. Our coaches stay on us all the time and that paid off for us today.”
Bulldogs go driving
If Piedmont hadn’t already taken control at halftime they had certainly taken it by the end of the fourth quarter.
The Bulldogs controlled the third quarter with a 14-play, 81-yard drive that lasted 7:05 and ended with a 2-yard run from Taylor Hayes. It gave them a 22-6 lead.
“We just dominated the line of scrimmage,” Hayes said on the drive. “We were getting four or five yards a carry and when you’re doing that then you’re going to run all the time off the clock and that’s what we were able to do.”
The offensive line has done that all season with the experience and size advantage they have up front.
The group led the way with 373 yards rushing and 239 of those yards came from Hayes.
“Coach always tells us to try to use or strengths and that’s what we did today,” senior offensive lineman Javian Woods said.
Krae Keener said the bond the group makes the most difference for the offensive line.
“We play together like brothers and we’ve come together, so I think that’s our best strength,” Keener said.
After completing their postgame news conference after Thursday's 22-12 win over Mobile Christian for the Class 3A state title, Piedmont coach Steve Smith and six of his players nearly left behind something awfully valuable:
The state championship trophy.
"We about forgot about that, I'll tell you what," Smith said as he turned around to retrieve the Bulldogs' hardware.
When Smith and senior captains Taylor Hayes, Austin Brazier, Krae Keener, Javian Woods, Cobey McFry and Chase Bobbitt arrived at a room beneath Jordan-Hare Stadium to meet with reporters, they initially put the trophy on the table in front of them. At the request of reporters, AHSAA communications director Ron Ingram moved the trophy to the floor in front of the table with some specific instructions for the Piedmont contingent: "Don't forget this."
Afterward, Smith joked with his players that it was their job to remember the trophy.
Going for two
Leading 13-6 after a late second quarter touchdown, Smith chose to go for two points, and it worked as Hayes jogged into the end zone through a large hole on the left side.
So why did Piedmont try for two rather than kick an extra point? The Bulldogs' coaches took advantage of a Mobile Christian error. With 1:14 to play in the half, Mobile Christian was out of timeouts. So when the Bulldogs lined up with their regular offense while Mobile Christian had its typical extra-point defense in the game. With no timeouts, the Leopards couldn't regroup.
"That was a good move by them," Mobile Christian coach Ronnie Cottrell said. "They caught us off-guard."
As happy as a third state title made Piedmont coach Steve Smith, he was just as happy with how the Bulldogs have done it.
“I’m still an old-school guy,” Smith said. “I told the people after the game, the people that are 46 years old and older, since that’s how old I am, they probably like to watch us play.
“We’re not the flashy spread, throw it, signals. We huddle every play. I have a fullback most plays, but I feel like, as a coach, you play what your strengths are. Our strengths are a big offensive line,
A punishing running attack and a defense that stops the run.”
After Thursday’s game, Smith was reminded about a preseason motivational speech he gave about Piedmont’s big chance to be the “biggest bust” as a defending state champion.
“We went No. 1 from the first poll to the last one,” Smith said. “A lot of people were predicting us to win it again, and we try to talk everyday about guarding against complacency and just reading too much in the press and believing all those things.
“You know from the times that we’ve won it in the past, when you’ve got that other team that you’ve got to get to, you’ve got other people working extremely hard. We’re not the only football in the state that works hard. We knew we was going to get everybody’s best effort.”