In a game displaying a handful of heroics by the Highlanders, Piedmont lost by two points, 23-21, on Friday night at Witter Field to McClymonds, which remains undefeated at 5-0.
The loss seemed improbable, given the fact that:
• Gabe Watson had his biggest game of the season with 215 yards running, including a dazzling 80-yard breakaway and another for 74 yards, plus two touchdowns. and scored 2 TDs
• Andrew Meredith returned the opening kickoff for a 98-yeard touchdown and returned a fumble recovery 60 yards
• Sam Williamson got far behind the defender and caught a 68-yard pass from Watson on a halfback option play.
Those alone would suggest stats from the winning team. Unfortunately, mistakes on both sides of the ball doomed the effort.
Watson had over 100 yards by the end of the 1st quarter, and his 80-yarder made it 14-7 with 8:33 to go in the opening quarter, giving fans the expectation of a shoot-out. McClymonds made adjustments, while Highlander defenders had their hands full with the Warrior’s two multi-talented quarterbacks, Emoreea Fountain, who left in the 2nd quarter with a broken foot, and his replacement, Derrick Purvis.
Watson opened the 2nd quarter with a 20-yard run up the middle followed by 16 yards to the 33. He then had another 1st down to the 9, before a bad snap and a series of miscues left the Highlanders with a 4th and 30. They did not score.
On defense, linebackers Nick Pacult and Mason Willrich led Piedmont with 13 and 12 tackles respectively, while defensive end Christian Turner, Meredith and Watson each recovered fumbles.
“Our defense played inspired football against some of the most explosive offensive players we will face. We’ve been giving up a lot of yards, but we don’t want to give up points,” he said.
Center-QB exchanges have been troublesome for Piedmont all year. Of the five miscues that occurred, the most disastrous was at the 3:24 mark of the 3rd quarter when a Piedmont drive was undone by a snap over the head of quarterback Miles Kim.
The Warriors’ speedy Dyllon Louis raced in, scoped up the ball and ran 72 yards for a touchdown.
Piedmont played without several key contributors, most notably linebacker Jacob Watson, who hopes to be back next week. Lineman Connor Addiego is out for the year with a broken toe.
Another heartbreak came at the end of the 3rd quarter as Kim led a methodical, time-consuming drive. With a chance to score and go up 21-10, a snap over Kim’s head led to a 14-point turnaround when McClymonds’ speedy Louis scooped up the ball again and raced unimpeded for a touchdown for a 16-14 lead.
McClymonds pushed ahead 23-14 on a 5-yard run at the 5:24 mark of the 3rd quarter. But less than 30 seconds later, Watson scored on a dramatic 74-yard run. Meredith returned a Warriors’ fumble 60 yards, leading to another impressive Highlander drive, only to be doomed by yet another bad snap.
Josh Landheer had a career-long 60-yard punt in the 4th quarter, but missed tackles
allowed McClymonds to run down the time on a long possession. Piedmont’s last gasp began at the 1:09 mark at their own 22-yard line, but ended with an interception.
Coach Holan took his share of blame after the game telling his players, “This one’s on me, guys. You played well enough to win, but I fell short. I promise to be a better coach the rest of the way.”
Holan second-guessed himself on the decision not to try for a field goal late in the game when the Highlanders were within McClymonds’ 10-yard line and trailed by two points.
Defensive Coordinator Nick Safer praised his players. “There’s no doubt in my mind that we were the better football team tonight. We had a few bounces not go our way and that’s football. Last year we had all the bounces go our way. You can all be proud about the way you played tonight, we’re going to leave the results behind and learn what we can from this,” he said.
He took time to remind the Highlanders about how they’ve helped build a competitive program. “Two years ago, we couldn’t get 50 people in here for a game. You guys have built this up since then. To look up and see the stands packed, that’s something you can be proud of.”
Piedmont (3-2) opens league play next week with a home game against Hayward on Friday, October 9 at 7 p.m.