As our beloved Piedmont Highlanders football team gears up for its huge, road playoff game tonight against the JFK-Richmond Eagles; earlier this week the San Francisco Chronicle released a story about the wonderful season that the Eagles are having this season, which has become the Eagles most noteworthy season since they won the NCS Championship in 1988.
Back in 1988, that incredibly talented championship Kennedy Eagles team suffered a stunning upset in their regular season finale on their home field during Week Ten of the regular season…courtesy of the Piedmont Highlanders and a final score of 28 to 27 in favor of Piedmont; a remarkable game that remains one of the greatest upsets in the history of Piedmont football.
On that cold and damp late November afternoon in Richmond, Piedmont was led by their outstanding Head Football Coach, Steve Beyrle, and humbly, I served as his Offensive Coordinator. We had a good football team, and we finished that 1988 season at 6 – 4.
All season long we had heard about the major, future college and pro football-level talent of the Kennedy Eagles football team, and when our coaching staff had a couple of chances to scout that Eagles team live and in-person, the rumors were completely true, much to our dismay.
The Eagles were loaded with talent like no other high school football team that I have ever seen in my 25-years of coaching football throughout northern California. They were stocked with future collegiate stars and an eventual NFL Super Bowl Champion, D’Marco Farr (St. Louis Rams) at Defensive Tackle, Jason Harvey (University of Arizona) at Quarterback, Eric McDaniel at Tailback, Omar Thornton at Linebacker, and their roster seemed to be never ending with the number of players that went on to play junior college and/or collegiate football.
Our Piedmont players and coaches clearly understood that we were overwhelming underdogs going into that game vs. Kennedy, and when we watched the Eagles players in their red and white uniforms warm up on the field during that gray afternoon, it was an incredible sight to behold…they were huge, big, strong, fast and agile across the board – no weaknesses anywhere.
Coach Beyrle had devised a brilliant defensive game plan in a valiant attempt to somewhat slow down the Eagles offensive firepower, and we felt good about our multiple offensive attack, built around the simple concept of creating one-on-one matchups designed to isolate each Kennedy player in their 2-5-4 unique defensive scheme.
Kennedy’s two-man defensive front led by D’Marco Farr had been creating nightmares for their opponents all season long, and their remarkably talented 5-man linebacking core had been blitzing opposing backfields relentlessly. Lastly, their 4-man defensive secondary played man-to-man coverage vs. opposing receivers non-stop, because their 11-man defensive unit was unmatched in terms of talent and ability.
In our scouting of the Eagles defensive unit earlier that season, we noticed that when a running back motioned out of the backfield, that one of the Eagles linebackers would always follow him in man coverage.
So, during our game vs. the Eagles that day, we designed a simple plan to have our tough and smart offensive line set up with 4-foot wide splits, and we motioned one of our two running backs out of the backfield to clear out one of the Eagles’ inside linebackers. Then, we often had our quarterback, Watts take the handoff, spin around and give the football to our sprinting single running back coming from the backfield and racing between the guards, either Grimsrud or Austin, whichever running back happened to be in the backfield. Our attack worked brilliantly and we added a twist to our basic dive play because we knew that our offensive lineman could block or shield a big Kennedy linebacker for a split-second, just long enough to allow our speedy running backs to fake right and break left, or vice-versa. Our players executed things perfectly, and very soon into the opening quarter, our running backs were routinely sprinting through gaping holes in the Kennedy defense.
Defensively, Beyrle’s game plan attacked Kennedy’s backfield from all angles, we had to roll the dice on almost every play, they knew it, and we knew it, and fortunately we prevailed. If Kennedy was to score against our defense, Beyrle wanted it to be on a big play, because our physically overmatched defensive unit would not be able to withstand four-quarters of long, sustained offensive drives by the Eagles. Our defense created a couple of big turnovers which helped turn the momentum in our favor during the game; and those breaks also gave our offensive unit a shorter-field to work with to score.
Special teams made the difference in the game, and a missed PAT by the Eagles would ultimately be their undoing that day.
After a truly brilliant and exciting game hand unveiled itself over a two-and-a-half-hour period, it all came down to a Fourth down from the Eagles one-yard line. Our Piedmont offense had the football with less than two-minutes to go in the game, and we were trailing 27 to 21.
The stunned and disbelieving Kennedy coaches, players and fans knew that we were going to go for the win, and the shocked and excited Piedmont coaches, players, and fans also knew this was it, do or die, no matter what.
During our final timeout on the sideline with our offensive unit, Coach Beyrle asked me which play did I want to call, and I replied, “The Dive…because it got us this far.”
Beyrle agreed and I called the play, then our mud-and-grass stained Piedmont offensive unit eagerly hustled themselves onto the field. Both teams eventually lined up against each other in ultra-tight formations, pitting their big and talented defense against our smaller but determined and tough team. We put our Goal Line specialist at running back, Rusty Robb, who also played Linebacker for us, and Watts barked out the cadence as dusk settled in the darkening skies.
Watts took the snap from under the center and spun around from left to right, our offensive line fired off the line of scrimmage and created a tiny crease on the right side. Robb bolted towards the line and gobbled up the handoff, he powered his way through the tiny hole and dove head-first into the end zone!
Every single person on the sidelines and in the bleachers rooting for Piedmont jumped into the air and shouted for joy! We proceeded to kick the PAT to take the lead 28 to 27, with one-and-a-half minutes to go in the game.
But, the game was not yet over, Kennedy received our kickoff and proceeded to drive a few plays down the field, and then it happened. Eagles quarterback, Harvey launched a glorious bomb that went spiraling far down the right sideline, and the galloping Eagles receiver had somehow gotten behind our defensive secondary. Then, right in front of Coach Beyrle and I, the perfectly thrown pass hit that Eagles receiver right in the hands, on the money, he was off to the races for the winning score…but fortunately for us, that Eagles amazing receiver dropped the football and the immaculate pass fell incomplete for the Piedmont victory!
Our Piedmont players stormed the field in celebration of our shocking win, and in their joyous glee, the players hoisted Coach Beyrle and I onto their shoulders in the middle of the field, as we all reveled in the incredible win!
And now tonight, in their important playoff game vs. the Kennedy Eagles, it is my hope that the good and strong Piedmont team not only plays like champions with heart, but once again they stun the football world by upsetting a very good and talented Eagles team on their home turf.
Go Highlanders, and may both teams play a great game tonight in the NCS Playoffs!