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KEEPAWAY: Turnovers helped Flomaton hold off Piedmont for 3A title

AUBURN — Piedmont didn’t have the ball much in its 3A state final against Flomaton on Thursday. When the Bulldogs had it, they coughed it up too many times.

Six turnovers exacerbated Flomaton’s edge in time of possession of more than 13 minutes, and quarterback Daquan Johnson accounted for 266 total yards in his 56 runs and passes to lead the Hurricanes to a 23-12 victory in Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Flomaton (12-3) won its first state title in its first state-final appearance. Piedmont finished 12-3 after losing in a state final for the first time in four tries.

“We turned the ball over way too much for a game of this magnitude,” said Steve Smith, who coached Piedmont to state titles in 2009, 2015 and 2016. “Hats off to Flomaton. That’s not to take anything away from them. They earned this game today.”

Johnson did the most to earn it. The Hurricanes’ starting quarterback hit on 6 of 13 passes for 166 yards and a 14-yard touchdown pass to Samuel Smith. Johnson also carried 43 times for 100 yards, with touchdown runs of 2 and 3 yards.

“Coach pushed me to go every play, telling me how much time is left in the state-championship game, and don’t give up,” Johnson said. “Just keep going. Fight through it.”

Flomaton coach Doug Vickery said Johnson has been a “warrior” all season, but Johnson’s load Thursday owed partly to circumstances.

“Normally, we’ll rotate guys in and out there some,” Vickery said. “We’ll rotate his brother (Braydon) in there some and Devonta (Bradley). Da’Shun Odom, we usually rotate him in there when we need to, when he (Johnson) is getting a little tired, and run him several plays, but he separated his shoulder last week.”

Also a defensive back, Johnson ran down a Mason Mohon pass in the end zone to end Piedmont’s final scoring chance with 3:54 to play. He was named the game’s most valuable player.

His performance helped Flomaton overcome four turnovers of its own … two interceptions by Piedmont’s Carl Myers and one apiece for Jakari Foster and Matthew Thornton.

Thornton’s interception of Quincie McCall’s halfback pass and 60-yard return when Flomaton went for it on fourth and goal from the 1-yard line set up the game’s first touchdown. Mohon’s 3-yard run put Piedmont up 6-3 at 6:26 of the second quarter.

Johnson’s touchdown pass to Samuel at 1:33 gave Flomaton a 9-6 halftime lead, but Kaedon Jenkins opened the third quarter with a 74-yard run to put Piedmont up 12-9.

From there, turnovers and Flomaton’s possession time took their toll.

The Hurricanes ran 68 plays to Piedmont’s 43 and led time of possession 30:38-17:22. Johnson’s 2-yard touchdown run at 0:50 of the third quarter put Flomaton up 16-12 and capped the Hurricanes’ best drive to that point, covering 53 yards in 10 plays.

The two teams exchanged possession after that, leading to Piedmont’s most costly turnover of the day. Myers fielded a punt then fumbled on the return, spotting Flomaton at Piedmont’s 26. That set up the game’s final score, Johnson’s 3-yard run with 8:00 to play.

Flomaton had a two-score lead and held it to break through as a state champion.

“I’ve been there 13 years, and there were a lot of people that said you can’t win a state championship at Flomaton,” Hurricanes coach Doug Vickery said. “When I went there, somebody said I didn’t need to go there and take the job. … There’ve been people in our community that said we couldn’t win a state championship.

“I’m just so proud for them and proud for the people that believed in us and proud for these boys.”

Piedmont made it back to the state final for the third time in four years but without most of the difference-making players who helped the Bulldogs win state titles in 2015 and 2016. The Bulldogs won their fourth straight 3A, Region 6 title and rallied from behind to beat Westminster Christian in the quarterfinals and Randolph County in the semifinals.

“At the beginning of the year, we believed in our team, but everybody was against us, safer to say,” senior offensive lineman and captain Evan Cooper said. “Just to be able to go out there and prove everybody wrong and win our region and get to this point in the season and be in Auburn, it just feels great.”

Sports Editor Mark Edwards: 256-235-3570. On Twitter: @MarkSportsStar.