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Piedmont holds off Saks in overtime, clinches another trip to Super 7

Piedmont quarterback Jack Hayes, left, looks for running room against Saks on Friday night. Photo by Shannon Fagan.

ANNISTON – Piedmont senior Omarion Foster is known as a great football defender for the Bulldogs. But he’s proven in the past he can be quite a wide receiver as well.

In the Class 3A state semifinals at Saks Friday night, the 6-foot-3 Foster flourished on both sides of the ball in the clutch situations.

He made three catches for 88 yards – all for touchdowns – including a 63-yard score that gave the Bulldogs momentum back in the fourth quarter after Saks had tied the game.

Foster also broke up a pass on defense in the end zone in overtime on a third-and-goal play from the 5-yard line. Piedmont prevailed a play later when a Sean Parnell pass fell just out of the reach of Rickey Garrett’s arms in the end zone, and the Bulldogs escaped with a 52-44 victory.

The win sends fourth-ranked Piedmont (12-2) back to the Class 3A state championship game for the third time in four seasons. They’ll face the Montgomery Academy Eagles, which upset top-ranked Catholic of Montgomery 10-7 in other semifinal action on Friday. The 3A title game is scheduled for Thursday at 11 a.m. at Birmingham’s Protective Stadium.

Fifth-ranked Saks’ season ends at 12-2 – with both losses to the Bulldogs. Piedmont defeated Saks 28-12 back on Sept. 3 in the Region 5 opener for both teams.

“He (Foster) gives us a little bit of a matchup advantage from time to time because of his length and his speed,” Piedmont coach Steve Smith said. “They played a lot of what we call Cover Zero tonight, which is basically just man and bringing the house, a lot like Alexandria played against us Week 10. Gatlyn (Gardner) did a great job making a big touchdown catch in the first half, and Omar made a couple of big catches for touchdowns as well out of that same position because they had (Jalen) McCants, who is their top cover guy, he was sort of shadowing (Austin) Estes all night.

“Just from a match-up situation, Omar being about 6-3 and having some height advantage, and also good speed, he gave us a little bit of a match-up situation there that we were able to bust a couple of big plays.”

Foster said humbly “I just have to be ready when my name is called.”

“Whenever Coach Smith calls me in, I’ve just got to be ready and try to go make a play. Our quarterback (Jack Hayes) made good passes when I was open. I just catch the ball and try to do my job.”

Speaking of Hayes, the junior signal caller turned another spectacular performance for Piedmont. He rebounded from a shaky first quarter to complete 16-of-30 pass attempts for 288 yards and six touchdowns, including a 13-yard scoring strike to Estes on the first possession of overtime. Hayes also ran for 65 yards on 23 carries, including a 2-point conversion following Estes’ touchdown catch in overtime. Hayes’ 2-point conversion run was set up following a Saks pass interference call after Hayes missed on a 2-point pass under duress.

“I just threw it because you don’t want to take a sack on a 2-point conversion,” he said. “I just threw it up and luckily we got a pass interference. I didn’t see how it happened because I was on the ground. I knew we had to have it. Our line bowed their neck (on the 2-point run) and really got some movement and just gave me a lane to go through.

“We knew they were going to go for two if they scored, so we had to go for two and get it to make sure we didn’t lose.”

When Saks had its turn to tie in overtime, the Bulldog defense bowed its neck.

Parnell ran for three and two yards on the first two plays, but then Foster swatted away his pass attempt on third down from the 5. Following a Saks timeout, Parnell tried to find Garrett, but his pass fell just outside his reach.

“We had opportunities to make plays. We didn’t at times, and that’s just the name of the game,” Saks coach Jonathan Miller said. “We had them behind the chains in overtime and they converted. We got smacked around pretty good in the secondary, but regardless it was a good game. We just came out on the short end of the stick.”

“It was basically where we got to a situation there where we had to win 10 yards when we had the ball and make a two, and had to stop them from winning 10 yards,” Smith said. “I didn’t really have any encouragement to say to them because I really didn’t know what could be said that hadn’t been said already tonight.

“It was just a wild game. It was back and forth (between) two great teams. You hate to see anybody lose a game like that. Hat’s off to Saks and Coach Miller and what he’s done with this program here this year. They played a great game tonight. I just thought our guys made the plays at the end that we had to make. It’s coach talk and cliché I know, but we got it done there at the end when we had to.”

Piedmont took an early 3-0 lead on Sloan Smith’s 34-yard field goal on the Bulldogs’ opening possession.

The Wildcats countered with a 41-yard Parnell-to-Deniro Goode touchdown pass. The two also connected on the ensuing 2-point conversion, giving Saks an 8-3 lead with just over three minutes remaining in the first quarter.

Piedmont regained the lead on Hayes’ 31-yard scoring strike to Gardner. Sloan Smith’s extra point made it a 10-8 contest after one.

The Bulldogs extended their lead to 17-8 on a Hayes-to-Foster 10-yard connection. Saks rallied with a touchdown just before halftime on a 6-yard Parnell-to-Garrett score. McCants ran in for the 2-point conversion, making it a 17-16 game at the break.

Piedmont’s defense forced a punt on Saks’ first possession of the second half, and the Bulldog offense capitalized. Morgan ran in for an 11-yard touchdown to give Piedmont a 24-16 edge.

But two plays later, Saks found the end zone again. Following a 77-yard by McCants, Parnell passed for a 15-yard touchdown to Shon Elston. The Wildcats tried some trickery on the 2-point conversion on a McCants pass, but it fell incomplete, keeping the score at 24-22 in favor of the Bulldogs.

Piedmont scored again on its next drive, capped by another Hayes-to-Foster connection. This one went for 15 yards, and it gave the Bulldogs a 30-22 advantage at the end of the third quarter.

Piedmont appeared as if it was going to pull away early in the fourth on a 19-yard touchdown connection between Hayes and Estes that put the Bulldogs in front 36-22, but Saks proved resilient.

Parnell found Elston again for a 7-yard score. His ensuing 2-point conversion pass was batted down by Landon Smart, keeping the score at 36-28.

Following a Bulldog punt, Saks tied the game at 36 on a 64-yard Parnell-to-Elston connection and the ensuing Parnell-to-McCants 2-point conversion.

But the Bulldogs battled back to take the lead one play later on Hayes’ 63-yard scoring strike to Foster. Hayes and Foster hooked up again on the 2-point try, giving Piedmont a 44-36 lead with 4:41 remaining in regulation.

“We planned on driving it down the field and taking as much time as we could, but Omar just got open on the post and I let it go,” Hayes said. “I got killed after I threw it, but I just sat there and watched him run it to the end zone. It was a really good feeling, but I knew we left a lot (of time) on the clock.”

The Wildcats got a crucial defensive stop by blocking a Sloan Smith punt attempt. They took over possession at the Piedmont 32. Seven plays later, Parnell ran in from a yard with eight seconds to go in regulation, then connected with Elston on the 2-point try to tie the game at 44 to force overtime.

The Wildcats won the toss in overtime and elected to go on defense. They sacked Hayes for a 3-yard loss on first down, but he then connected with Estes for the go-ahead 13-yard touchdown. Hayes added the 2-point conversion run for what proved to be the final.

Estes finished the game with six catches for 86 yards and two touchdowns. Parnell completed 10-of-26 pass attempts for 174 yards and five touchdowns. He also ran for 34 yards on 13 carries with another score. Elston had three catches for 86 yards and two touchdowns. McCants ran for 129 yards on 10 carries.

“It was just a crazy night tonight,” Coach Smith said. “There were so many times that the momentum swung our way for a little while, then their way, then a big play here, a big play there. I don’t know if you can say you walked away surprised after all the things that transpired during the game.”

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