Coming full circle: Piedmont, Cherokee County lead area’s all-state football selections


By Shannon Fagan, WEIS Sports Director

MONTGOMERY – It’s been almost four months since the Cherokee County Warriors defeated the Piedmont Bulldogs in a thrilling 21-14 battle for their first football victory in the Highway 9 rivalry since 2009. Both teams’ paths crossed again in Auburn at the Super 7 to end the season, as both finished Class 3A and 4A state runners-up respectively.

The Alabama Sports Writers Association took notice of both teams’ successes in 2022. The organization selected nine Bulldogs and six Warriors to its all-state teams, which were released early Sunday morning.

In all, 20 area high school football players were honored by the ASWA, which selected the teams on Thursday in Montgomery.

Piedmont (12-3) had four Class 3A first-team selections in quarterback Jack Hayes, offensive lineman ChrisJon Gurley, defensive lineman Chance Murphy, and linebacker Brody Epps. The Bulldogs also had four second-team picks in wide receiver Ishmael Bethel, defensive back Cody Holloway, kicker Sloan Smith, and athlete Max Hanson. Linebacker Rhett Alford was chosen as an honorable mention.

Hayes set a number of school and state records this season. He completed 227-of-373 pass attempts for 3,267 yards and 37 touchdowns and also ran for 1,592 yards on 219 carries with 23 scores. Gurley was the top Bulldog offensive lineman on a team averaging over 200 yards rushing and passing and 37 points per game. Murphy managed 73 total tackles, including eight tackles for loss, with seven sacks and two blocked punts. Epps led the Bulldogs with 122 tackles, including 15 for loss, with six sacks, two fumble recoveries, one caused fumble and a pass breakup.

Bethel led the Bulldog receivers with 62 catches for 1,042 yards and 17 touchdowns. Holloway had 34 tackles, 13 pass breakups, a pair of fumble recoveries and an interception. Smith connected on 63 of his 70 extra point attempts and 7-of-14 field goal attempts with a long of 30 yards. Hanson, a wide receiver and kick returner, caught 52 passes for 462 yards and four touchdowns. He also accounted for 364 kickoff return yards and 217 punt return yards with a touchdown.

Alford accumulated 107 total tackles, including 15 for loss, with eight sacks, three fumbles caused and two pass breakups.

Cherokee County (12-3) had three Class 4A first-teamers in athlete Jacob Cornejo, offensive lineman Landon Ransum, defensive lineman Tae Diamond, and defensive back Jack Amos. The Warriors also had a second-team selection in linebacker Tristan Brown and an honorable mention offensive lineman in Zach Gaylor.

Cornejo compiled 2,580 yards on 287 carries with 33 touchdowns, which is a school record. He also posted 133 tackles as a linebacker, including 17 for loss with two sacks, two interceptions (one for a TD), and four pass breakups.

Ransum, who played right tackle, led the Warriors in pancakes on an offense that averaged over 36 points per game. Diamond delivered 98 total tackles, including 27 for loss, with 20 sacks, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and two passes batted down. Amos had 103 tackles, including four for loss, with seven interceptions (one for a TD) and eight passes batted down.

Brown posted 135 tackles, including 16 for loss, with two sacks, two interceptions and two passes batted down. Gaylor, who played left tackle, was second on the team in knockdowns.

In Class 1A, Spring Garden’s Matthias Williams was chosen as a first-team offensive lineman. Williams, a four-year starter, tallied 71 pancake blocks and graded out at 91 percent for the Panthers (10-2).

Cedar Bluff’s Dylan Kinard earned a second-team spot on the Class 1A offensive line. Kinard graded out at 93 percent with 27 pancakes and 44 kills for the Tigers (4-7).

Gaylesville’s Keylon Higgins claimed one of the Class 1A second-team athlete spots. His teammate Briley Mitchell earned an honorable mention on the defensive line.

Higgins, a running back and linebacker, gained 1,206 yards on 154 carries with 12 touchdowns. He also caught eight passes for 154 yards and two scores and had 54 tackles with three sacks on defense for the Trojans (3-6). Mitchell posted 72 tackles with four sacks, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

Keaton DeBoard claimed a first-team running back spot on the Class 2A all-state team. DeBoard delivered 1,281 yards on 158 carries with 18 touchdowns. He also caught 16 passes for 426 yards and six touchdowns for the Panthers (8-3).

You can see the complete 2022 ASWA All-State Football Teams on the WEIS radio website.

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