After turning everyone’s head in the Bay Area with a 10-0 regular season, Piedmont’s football team began the next chapter of a fantastic 2014 season by hosting Kennedy of Richmond, the No. 15 seed of the North Coast Section playoffs on Friday under the Witter Field lights.
Playing before another energetic home crowd, the No. 2 seeded Highlanders showed everyone what they are capable of doing with a 52-8 dismantling of the Eagles. Piedmont played without mercy in the first half, running the score to 42-0 by halftime before pumping the brakes with the mercy rule in effect after the break.
“I think we played one of the cleanest games [in the first half] we’ve played all season,” said head coach Scott Coats. “We were ready to dominate all three phases of the game. We came out saying we’re going to score a touchdown in the opening kickoff. We didn’t, but we came close and set the pace for the rest of the night.”
The Highlanders used its passing game a handful of times, but Kennedy couldn’t stop the run. Meanwhile Piedmont’s defense essentially kept the Eagles out of Piedmont’s red zone all night.
“I have to give a lot of credit to our offensive linemen and lineman coach Nick Safir,” Coats commented on the running game. “We’re pretty much undersized in every matchup, but the line works miracles for our running backs.”
Junior running back Gabe Watson led the evening with four rushing touchdowns – and all before the end of the first half.
Piedmont opened the game with an exceptional return by Andrew Meredith who followed early blocks from Matthew Lichens and Connor Addiego. After initial contact, he took off down the sideline all the way to Kennedy’s 25-yard line. Four plays later, Watson, out of the muscle package faked a handoff and took the ball into the end zone on a 4-yard run.
The Eagles were forced to punt after a long series and Meredith returned the ball for 25 yards, again putting PHS within striking distance. It took three runs and a pass interference call against Kennedy to set up Watson for his second rushing touchdown – this time for 9 yards. After Andrew Strauch’s kick PHS led 14-0.
Strauch returned to the field immediately to give one of his booming kickoffs into the end zone to put Kennedy at its own 20.
On the first play of the drive, lineman Hunter Abel almost sacked the QB, forcing a poor throw, which was intercepted by Frank Kossack.
Piedmont threw in a slew of runs with one pass from QB Miles Kim to Nick Pacult for an 11-yard gain. Starting the second quarter, Piedmont got back into the end zone when Gabe Watson took the ball up the middle and carried defenders into the end zone with the help of a big push from Abel.
The Eagles were forced to punt quickly on their next set of downs, which led to another monster return from Meredith to Kennedy’s 9-yard line. A short pass from Cole Gruendl to Jacob Watson in the flats was good for another touchdown and a 28-0 lead with 8:40 left to play in the half.
Gruendl completed 4 of 9 passes for 76 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing 21 yards on two carries.
“I was impressed with Cole’s decision-making at the line of scrimmage,” said Coats after the game. “It was a very mature game by him and we’re going to look to that in the future.”
The Highlander defense did not let up. Jacob Watson was all over the next series, making two tackles and then sacking the quarterback (with help from Spencer Chan) for an 8-yard loss on a 3rd down.
Piedmont returned to its running game with Watson gaining 8-10 yard chunks on each carry. He eventually found the end zone on a 4-yard run, sneaking through a gap on the right side. Piedmont led 35-0 with 3:09 left in the half.
Kennedy was still unable to move the ball for a 1st down, but Gruendl made his only mistake of the night by throwing an interception late in the half. On the very next play, Meredith responded by intercepting Kennedy’s pass just as Jacob Watson nailed the quarterback to force the throw.
With 19 seconds left in the half, Piedmont had Gruendl throw the ball. Wide receiver Joey Moyer easily got behind the Eagle defender for an easy 32-yard touchdown, making the score 42-0 at the break.
With the clock running uninterrupted in the second half, Piedmont continued to hold the Eagles on defense. They scored on a 31-yard field goal by StrauchLate in the game, Kim followed a huge block by Mason Willrich for a 16-yard QB keeper into the end zone.
With 3 minutes left, Kennedy finally scored on a 35-yard pass on a 3rd down and long yardage.
“We don’t have a strict strategy for each game. We take what the defense gives us and we took those opportunities on Friday,” said Coats.
Watson led with 75 yards and four touchdowns on 10 carries, while Kim added 46 yards and a TD on just five touches. Moved up from JV, William Matsuno had four carries for 39 yards.
On defense Jacob Watson had six tackles, two of them sacks, while Abel added six tackles and a forced two bad passes by the Kennedy QB.