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Prep football: Second-half rally sends Piedmont into 3A semifinals

Saks at Piedmont action  bW 03.JPG

Piedmont's Jadon Calhoun catches a pass for a score during the Saks at Piedmont game. Saks' Will Mixson. Photo by Bill Wilson / The Anniston Star

PIEDMONT — The second meeting of the season between Class 3A, Region 5 opponents Piedmont and Saks went to Piedmont 38-20 but it was nothing like the first encounter.

After winning 35-6 the first week of region games on Sept. 4, Piedmont found itself trailing 14-10 at halftime.

"I’m just proud of our guys for being able to go in at halftime and regroup and come back out and do what we had to do to win this game,” Piedmont coach Steve Smith said later.

Each team had a time in the contest where it seemed that whatever could go wrong did. Piedmont’s came over the final seven minutes of the second quarter after taking a seemingly comfortable 10-0 lead in the first period. Saks cornerback Jalen McCants jumped a short hitch route for pick-six.

The Wildcats recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff at the Piedmont 32-yard line. Quarterback Sean Parnell ran for 14 yards then Jaylon Cunningham scored on an 18-yard run when the Bulldogs lost containment on a halfback pass play. A two-point conversion run by Parnell put Saks up 14-10 with 4:46 to play in the first half.

Adding insult to injury, Piedmont didn’t have enough time to get off a final play from inside the Saks 5 when the first half ended.

Saks coach Jonathan Miller said the game got away from his team in the third quarter. Midway through the third, Piedmont quarterback Jack Hayes scored on a 25-yard after a 24-yard punt return by Austin Estes got Piedmont a short field to make it 17-14 Bulldogs. Piedmont’s Jakari Foster got a 17-yard pick-six two plays later after a holding penalty put Saks at the Saks 15.

Miller said perhaps he shouldn’t have thrown so deep in Saks territory but his team had come to win, not play close, and had to be aggressive at that point. The pass was designed to force Foster to make a one-on-one tackle on McCants.

What to know

—A 21-yard Hayes to Jadon Calhoun fade in the end zone put Piedmont up 7-0 and Sloan Smith’s 27-yard field goal on the final play of the first quarter made it 10-0. Smith was 5 of 5 on extra points as well.

—Elijah Johnson, Piedmont’s 225-pound running back, had 28 carries for 153 yards and scored Piedmont’s final touchdown on a 4-yard run with just over three minutes to play.

—Hayes had 72 yards rushing before kneeling with the ball twice in the victory formation. He was 5 of 11 passing for 112 yards and two touchdowns. The second touchdown was a 57-yard bomb to Foster for a 31-14 lead with 10:46 to play.

—Parnell passes to McCants for a 27-yard score with 8:42 to go for the final points for the Wildcats. Overall, Parnell was 10 of 17 for 120 yards. McCants had six catches, all in the second half, for 68 yards.

—Piedmont’s defense limited Saks to 34 net rushing yards. The Wildcats lost 40 yards on seven negative plays.

Who said

—Miller on the physical nature of the game: Two good teams that wanted to win the football game. They’ve got a lot of good players. We’ve got good players. Both teams fought hard. We just come up on the short end of this one.”

Next up

—Piedmont (12-1) will travel to Fyffe (13-0) for a 3A semifinal game. Saks ended 9-4 after starting Region 5 action 0-3.

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