But such was the case in Class 3A, No. 6 Piedmont’s 63-35 win against Hamilton in the quarterfinals of the state football playoffs Friday night at The Field of Champions.
The Bulldogs’ stoppers forced five turnovers, picking off Aggie standout freshman quarterback Mitch Stults five times. They scored a touchdown on an interception return and set up another score with a takeaway that helped Piedmont (11-2) advance to the state semifinals for the first time since 1993.
Standing in the Bulldogs’ way of advancing to their first state title appearance is an old nemesis: Leeds.
The Green Wave (11-2), which defeated Madison Academy 24-21in other quarterfinal action Friday, has beaten Piedmont in three previous meetings in the past two seasons. The last time both teams played, Leeds escaped with a 14-13 overtime win at Piedmont. Leeds also ended the Bulldogs’ season in the third round of the Class 3A state playoffs last season.
The two teams’ latest battle will be Friday at Leeds at 7 p.m.
Against Hamilton (11-2), Piedmont’s Jamaal Johnson broke open a back-and-forth battle late in the first half with a pair of picks in the 1:45 of the second quarter.
First, Johnson snatched a Stults pass out of the sky at the Bulldog 40-yard line and returned in 50 yards down to the Aggie 10 with a 1:30 to play before the break. That set up a 10-yard touchdown run by Bulldog freshman Jamie Major. Piedmont quarterback Chase Childers added the 2-point conversion to give the Bulldogs a 35-21 lead. Johnson recorded his second interception on the Aggies’ next offensive possession, ending a drive that saw Hamilton reach the Bulldog 26.
“It was back and forth, and the big thing we needed was momentum,” Johnson said. “I decided I’d step up and make the play for the defense.”
Piedmont scored first on a 10-yard run by run by running back Christian Cantrell with 3:01 to play in the opening quarter. Stults answered with a 66-yard dash for the a score off a quarterback draw up the middle to tie the game at 7.
A 20-yard touchdown pass from Childers to Noah Willis gave the Bulldogs a 13-7 edge.
Hamilton’s Deandre Coleman went in from two yards out, with the extra point putting the Aggies ahead 14-13 with 8:42 left in the half.
Cantrell added the second of his three touchdowns on the night to give Piedmont a 19-14 advantage with 5:25 remaining before the break. Cantrell finished with a game-high 202 yards rushing on 21 carries to lead the Bulldogs, followed by Childers’ 191 yards on just 12 carries.
Stults connected with Codey Frederick on a 45-yard score on a wide receiver screen with less than four minutes to play in the half. Frederick’s extra point gave the Aggies a slim 21-19 lead.
Piedmont went ahead for good at 27-21 on a 9-yard score by Cantrell. The touchdown capped a drive he began with a 59-yard tote from the Bulldogs’ 30-yardline that got them down to the Aggie 11.
Things fell apart quickly for Hamilton in the second half.
Piedmont scored 21 unanswered points on a 56-yard run by Childers, a 51-yard pass from Childers to Tay Holloway and a 28-yard interception return for a score by Jeffrey Riffey to go up 56-21 with 6:17 remaining in the third.
Stults completed 15-of-24 passes with three touchdowns and five interceptions. He also carried the ball 14 times for 11 yards.