On Tuesday, Cantrell’s life was taken in an automobile accident. He was just 20 years old.
The 2012 Bulldogs honored their former teammate by making a few of their own big plays on Friday against longtime rival Cherokee County.
The Bulldogs scored a total of six touchdowns – Cantrell’s old jersey number – in a 45-21 victory. Four of Piedmont scores went for over 40 yards.
“Everybody was playing for him. This game was devoted to him,” said senior quarterback Cade Bradley, who completed 8 of 11 passes for 144 yards and a touchdown. “Everybody went out and played their best.”
Piedmont coach Steve Smith, who picked up his 150th coaching win Friday, said practice had been difficult this week, but he’s proud of how well the team stayed focused and persevered.
“The kids have done a wonderful job this week of staying focused and preparing for the game,” he said. “They did a better job this week of staying focused than I did. They worked hard all week long. Coach (James) Blanchard and the rest of our coaches did a wonderful job getting the game plan installed this week under difficult circumstances.”
It was Bradley who helped get things going for Class 3A, No. 3 Piedmont (1-0). He connected on a 69-yard touchdown pass with sophomore receiver CJ Savage – who wears Cantrell’s old jersey number. Senior Dillon Terry’s extra point made it 7-0 Bulldogs with 5:40 left in the first quarter.
“We run that play several times against Jacksonville (in last week’s jamboree) and it seemed to work. It worked again tonight for us,” Bradley said.
The Warriors (0-1) tied the game at 7 with 10:56 to go in the first half on senior quarterback Tanner Young’s 16-yard scoring strike to junior receiver Wade Griffith. Junior kicker Eric Burgess booted the extra point.
Piedmont regained the lead on a 10-play, 77-yard drive that resulted in a 2-yard touchdown run by junior running back Exavyer Jackson. Terry’s point after made it 14-7 at the 6:20 mark of the second quarter.
Bradley accounted for the second of the Bulldogs’ big plays with 3:03 left in the half. On a third-and-1 at Piedmont’s 28-yard line, Bradley bounced left on a quarterback sneak and broke into the open field for a 72-yard score, putting Piedmont in front 21-7.
Smith thought Bradley’s touchdown run changed the game’s momentum for good.
“We were in a situation where we were simply trying to get a first down, just to try and keep our defense off the field for a little bit longer,” Smith said. “It just happened that Cade broke it for a long one. After that, it kind of steamrolled to our good. We picked up a little momentum from that, and it kind of turned the game.”
Warrior coach Tripp Curry said big plays like Bradley’s 72-yard run “killed us.”
“When you give up big plays, that’s a momentum booster, and they had six plays of 50 yards or more,” Curry said. “Penalty-wise, we jumped off sides a lot. We didn’t get lined up right. That’s our fault (as coaches). I thought we were ready for that, but we weren’t. If we don’t do any better than that, then we’re in for a long year.”
Piedmont’s defense came up with the Bulldogs’ next big play. Senior defensive back Laphonso Burroughs picked off Young and returned it to the Warrior 18-yard line with 1:41 remaining until halftime. Three plays later, Terry booted a 32-yard field goal as the clock expired, giving Piedmont a 24-7 halftime advantage.
Piedmont picked up where it left off in the third quarter. Savage returned a Warrior punt from his own 20 to the Warrior 36-yard line. A diving catch by junior receiver Denard Spears gave the Bulldogs a first-and-goal at the 1. Freshman running back Darnell Jackson scored on the next play, giving Piedmont a 31-7 lead with 9:11 left in the third quarter.
Jackson scored again after another Warrior punt. This time, he rambled 63 yards to cap a 5-play, 73-yard drive. The touchdown put Piedmont in front 38-7.
Jackson rushed for 92 yards and two touchdowns on just five carries.
The Warriors got decent field position on the ensuing kickoff thanks to a 47-yard return by senior running back D.J. McAllister. Cherokee County began the drive at the Piedmont 45, but the Warriors turned the ball over one play later on a fumble recovered by Bulldog senior linebacker Jamie Major.
After the turnover, Cherokee County’s defense forced the Bulldogs to punt, but the ball touched a Warrior player and was recovered by Piedmont’s Austin Bishop at the Warrior 44.
One play later, sophomore running back Dreek Thompson scored, making it 45-7 Bulldogs at the end of three quarters.
Warrior sophomore running back Ty Green scored the game’s final two touchdowns, both in the fourth quarter, on runs of 25 and 6 yards.
Green finished with 117 yards on 15 carries with two touchdowns. McAllister had 51 yards on 10 carries. Young completed 9 of 19 passes for 102 yards and a touchdown.