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Piedmont holds formal celebration for 2021 football title

Piedmont’s seniors pose with the Class 3A state championship trophy after formally being presented with it by AHSAA representatives on Thursday morning. Photo by Shannon Fagan.

PIEDMONT – As is tradition at Piedmont whenever football championship celebrations are held, politicians made speeches and proclamations. Presentations and thank-yous were made, and the Bulldog seniors were the ones who formally accepted the blue map championship trophy from Alabama High School Athletic Association officials.

Bulldog head coach Steve Smith, who has now guided Piedmont to five state titles since 2009, likens his seniors accepting the trophy to an evolution.

“A lot of those kids who came up here and accepted this (trophy) today as seniors from the AHSAA, not too long ago they were sitting in the middle school chairs when we were recognizing the 2016 team. They were sitting in the pup club when the 2009 team was recognized. They got to see it from every perspective. It’s something that’s pretty special when you think about it like that,” Smith said.

All championships the Bulldogs have won are special in their own right, but the 2021 season was certainly that for Piedmont (13-2). It in itself was an evolution, capped off by the greatest comeback in Super 7 history. Piedmont rallied from a 23-point halftime deficit to earn an improbable 35-33 victory over Montgomery Academy in the Class 3A title game at Birmingham’s Protective Stadium.

“December 2 was a defining moment for the team on the field,” Smith said. “They got to have the hysteria of winning a championship in the moment.

“It really in my book says a whole lot about the team. If any one part – offense, defense, or special teams – didn’t perform at the level they did, we wouldn’t have had enough time to come back. We had to score every time that we scored. We had to get stops every time we got stops. Special teams made their contributions and did what they had to do. The 2-point conversion plays were big. Everything in that second half epitomizes what we preach about teamwork. If any one of those areas had let down and fallen just a little bit short, then we would’ve been short in our comeback.”

At several points during the 2021 season, the Bulldogs could’ve backed down, but they persevered from seemingly everything thrown their way – from an improbable 55-45 victory over Jacksonville in which the Bulldogs were down by 17 points at four different times, to a 28-24 loss at Ohatchee that eventually dropped them to the third playoff spot from Region 5, to a 25-20 setback to Alexandria to end the regular season.

“The Jacksonville game, I think if anything, it epitomizes the resiliency of this team,” Smith said. “Down 17 points at different times in that game, and as late as the fourth quarter being down 17, coming back from 23 down in the state championship game, you could almost say we’ve been there before. We’d been in a similar type of situation, but to come back in the championship game on the biggest stage in front of the entire state, I think that speaks more about the type of kids we have and the never-say-die attitude.

“The turning points usually come from your losses. Teams that are not very mentally tough, you can take a loss sometimes and not bounce back from it. I think a lot of times how your team bounces back after a loss gives you an idea. Alexandria kind of exposed some things against us that other people tried to copy in the playoffs, but it opened our eyes to some things we needed to work on and some things we got fixed before the playoffs started. I think the turning points during the season were after the losses, with how the kids bounced back. They didn’t let one week beat them the next.

“We always talk about life lessons you pick up in football. Hopefully that resilient attitude, that never quit, that never give up, these guys will carry that with them in their marriages, their family life, their work life as they get older, and they’ll be those types of people off the field for the rest of their lives.”

As much as days like Thursday morning are a celebration of the team’s accomplishments, Smith said it’s also about the community.

“A month later, you reflect back on it, reflect back on the season, and you also have time to think about all the folks who play a part in it. Today we recognized what the team accomplished back in December, but it really is a community-wide event today,” Smith said.

“These types of celebrations we have, we tell the kids we should never take them for granted. We’re very fortunate. A lot of great teams at a lot of schools have had great seasons but never have been part of a championship. We don’t ever need to take it for granted. We like to use this day to reflect back on all the people over the last 99 years who have been a part of Piedmont football.”

Piedmont Mayor Bill Baker shows off the latest football state championship sign at the team’s formal celebration on Thursday. Photo by Shannon Fagan.
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