There was only 2:12 left in the Bulldogs’ Class 3A state semifinal game at Leeds. Childers’ team was fighting in a tied ball game, with the season and a state trip to the state championship game on the line.
The senior took a draw play 52 yards for a touchdown in the Bulldogs’ 13-7 win over defending state champion Leeds, avenging a 14-13 overtime loss back in Week 8 of the regular season.
Childers’ run began like so many of the plays called for him. He fielded the snap out of the shotgun and headed left in search of a crease. He lowered his head and looked like he’d wind up with a 5-yard gain to get the chains moving on the first-and-10 play.
It ended unlike any other.
A block sealed a defender outside the tackle box. Childers read it, made a cut toward the sideline, and was off to the races.
It was the game’s longest play from scrimmage and helped advance Piedmont to next Friday’s state championship against Cordova. The 3A title bout is set for 11 a.m. Thursday at Tuscaloosa’s Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Piedmont is the first team from Calhoun County to reach the title game since Alexandria captured the 4A crown a dozen years ago.
“I saw that they had guys in the gaps and just bounced it to the outside,” the 5-foot-8, 190-pound Childers said. “It feels great to win like this. This is what we’ve worked all our lives for.”
Childers’ run was a childhood dream turned reality.
“I never thought it’d happen,” Childers said, who finished with 93 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries. “Not in this type of game.”
It was the type of game that likely struck supporters of the blue and gold with a case of amnesia.
Forgotten are the two regular season losses in the past two years to the Green Wave that cost the Bulldogs region titles. A distant memory is the 26-7 loss on this very field that ended their 2008 season in the quarterfinals a year ago.
“We’ve lost to them three times. They’re a great football team. We knew that this one was for all the marbles and it could cancel out all those other games,” Childers said.
Piedmont looked like it was on pace for another blowout early on. Childers scored from 17 yards out with 8:26 left in the first to cap a 6-play, 55-yard drive on the Bulldogs first offensive series.
The Bulldogs (12-2), who tied Leeds (11-3) at No. 6 in the final Alabama Sports Writers Association poll, couldn’t have had its back pressed up against the wall any harder. Christian Cantrell, the Bulldogs’ starting running back came into the game with more than 1,700 yards rushing and nearly 20 touchdowns, went down on the second defensive possession of the game. His knee buckled and he never returned. He said he didn’t know whether he’d be able to play for Thursday’s title game.
Jamaal Johnson filled in for him and gained 23 yards on six carries. He also caught a pass for nine yards.
Losing Cantrell on defense also made Childers have to go the distance on both sides of the ball.
“It was crazy,” Cantrell said. I’m not used to sitting out. All I could do was cheer to keep my teammates in the game. They did what they had to do.”
What the Bulldogs did was defy the numbers.
Despite holding Leeds to just 207 yards of offense, they amassed just 131 themselves. They also gave up lost the first down battle 16-6. But they came up with what they needed when they absolutely had to have it.
Dedrick Forsyth led Leeds with 54 yards on 16 carries. Ladarius Rogers rushed for 38 yards on 13 carries.
“We felt like the two best teams in the north could come out of Class 3A, Region 5,” Piedmont coach Steve Smith. “Our guys fought hard and toughed it out. They were able to dig deep and hang in there at the end. Everyone did their job.”
The Bulldog defense held the Green Wave scoreless until Leeds’ Ladarius Rogers scored on 1-yard run with 7:38 to go. They turned Leeds away three times in the red zone.
A fumble recovery by defensive lineman Cory Sears ended a Green Wave possession at the Bulldogs’ 15-yard line with less than three minutes to go in the third.
All the Bulldogs had to do was hold Leeds off in the final 2:05 to secure their reservations at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The Green Wave reached the Bulldog 30, but Luke Smith and Terrick Spear converged on Leeds quarterback Rush Perkins to force an intentional grounding penalty to seal the win.
“We just played our assignments,” Luke Smith said. “That’s been one of our mottos all season. A breakdown can lead to a touchdown and cost you a trip to the state championship game. Now, our dreams are starting to come true.”