By Joe Medley, East Alabama Sports Today
PIEDMONT – For a moment, Piedmont’s home side erupted Friday.
For that moment, after Trevor Pike caught a pass at the front corner of the end zone, the home side waited to see an official raise his arms to signal a would-be winning touchdown.
Instead, the official swept his arms to signal out of bounds.
That’s how close Piedmont came to stretching its late-season turnaround under first-year coach Jonathan Miller to the Class 3A quarterfinals. Close, but Lauderdale County survived a second-round classic 35-30 on the Field of Champions.
Piedmont finished a season beset by graduation losses, injuries and a brutal first-half schedule at 5-7 while undefeated Lauderdale County advanced to play host to Geraldine in the quarterfinals.
“I tell you, our kids have been resilient all year,” Miller said. “They fought their tails off, and it was no different tonight.
“After all of the ups and downs and all of the things we’ve been through, we’ve kept working and getting better, and we were an eyelash away from the third round.”
On a night where everything mattered, Piedmont quarterback Cole Wilson completed 17 of 26 passes for 324 yards and four touchdowns – 49, 12 and 49 yards to Ishmael Bethel and 14 yards to Luke Rhinehart.
Some of Wilson’s touchdown connections came on spectacular plays. He scrambled left and delivered a strike on his first hookup with Bethel, who juked three defenders after the catch and finished off the play for a 10-7 Piedmont lead at 11:15 of the second quarter.
Wilson scrambled right, spotted Rhinehart and then threw back across the field to give Piedmont 17-13 lead at 3:25 of the second.
Wilson dropped his second 49-yarder to Bethel over the top with a perfect lead to give Piedmont a 30-29 lead with 4:51 left, completing a comeback from a 29-17 deficit.
As much as Piedmont’s defense struggled to stop Lauderdale County’s balanced attack, the Bulldogs made two of them game’s biggest plays. McClane Mohon recovered a Micah Christensen fumble at Piedmont’s 37-yard line ahead of Wilson’s first touchdown pass to Bethel, and Rhinehart fell on a bad Jaxson Lovelace-Christensen exchange at Piedmont’s 13 ahead of Wilson’s second 49-yard touchdown pass to Bethel for the go-ahead score.
Lovelace and Lauderdale County’s rushing attack made kept up their part of the classic game. He completed nine of 10 passes for 194 yards and two touchdowns: 59 yards to Hudson Lash for a 21-17 Tiger lead with 43 seconds left in the second quarter and 33 yards to Joseph Tucker to make it 29-17 at 8:07 of the third.
Christensen, Braxton Rose, Payton Richardson and Lovelace combined to give Lauderdale County 239 rushing yards and three touchdowns, including Richardson’s 5-yard run to make it 35-30 with 42 seconds left.
It was just enough time for Wilson to lead the Bulldogs into position to win the game.
A pass-interference penalty then 25-yard completion to Rhinehart spotted Piedmont at Lauderdale County’s 27 before Piedmont called timeout with 18 seconds left.
Coming out of the timeout, Piedmont ran a wheel route to Pike toward the wide (visiting) side. Pike made a leaping catch at the front corner of the end zone.
Lash initially lined up on Bethel, who ran a post toward Lauderdale County’s two-deep safeties. Lash released Bethel to the inside then made up ground on Pike.
Lash hit Pike after Pike caught the ball, and Pike fell over the sideline.
“I thought I had it,” Pike said. “I thought my feet would’ve dragged in bounds.”
Wilson scrambled to Pike’s side of the field before throwing the pass and viewed the play from behind it.
“I thought he had it, at first,” Wilson said. “The guy made a great play to push him out of bounds before he could get down, so props to him.”