Piedmont’s football team rebounded from an ugly loss to Moreau Catholic one week earlier with a satisfying 24-15 win over Salesian on Friday night. September 18, at Witter Field.
Running back Gabe Watson led the Highlanders with 139 yards and two touchdowns, including a beautiful cut back run. He ran into a wall of defenders on the right side, quickly spun to his left and broke several tackles for a 31-yard gain.
Quarterback Miles Kim directed the offense to a big second quarter in which Piedmont scored all its points. He capped the first half with a dazzling 42-yard scoring play off a QB draw.
With 2 seconds on the clock, kicker Josh Landheer booted a dramatic 45-yard field goal at the close of the first half.
Salesian’s opening possession ended when linebacker Mason Willrich picked off a long Pride pass tipped by Nick Pacult, and returned it 13 yards. Watson got rolling on the second possession with first downs on consecutive carries, and began the 2nd quarter with a beautiful spin move to break a tackle for a 20-yard gain. On the next play, tight end Christian Turner lined up as a blocking back in the wildcat formation, and running back Nick Pacult stepped in to score on a 14-yard run. Piedmont led 6-0 after Landheer’s PAT sailed wide.
Salesian responded with a big kickoff return to midfield, followed by a two-play scoring drive and quick 7-6 lead, giving Highlander coaches flashbacks to last week’s pounding by Moreau.
“They got us with a couple of quick hitters and we weren’t prepared,” said PHS coach James Holan. “They ran a trap play we hadn’t seen and finished it off with a dive.”
On Piedmont’s next drive Kim was interception on a 4th & 10 play. But one play later defensive back Frank Kossak intercepted Salesian’s erratic quarterback and returned the ball to the 28. Watson capped a short drive with a tackle-breaking 25-yard run, dragging Pride defenders into the end zone. Pacult ran untouched for the 2-point conversion to put Piedmont in front once again, 14-7.
After Salesian’s kickoff returner fumbled the ball, the Highlanders were handed a gift –possession of the ball four yards from Salesian’s end zone. Watson scored on the next play for a quick 21-7 lead.
Piedmont showed more diversity on offense, but a holding penalty moved the ball back on the final first-half drive, setting up Landheer’s 45-yard FG.
Piedmont’s defense, which had successfully contained Salesian’s talented running back after the first quarter, stepped up throughout the second half. The Pride scored a final touchdown late in the game long after Piedmont had the game in hand.
Sloppy play characterized much of the third quarter with both teams trading possessions, but Piedmont’s defense came ready to play. Gabe Watson and Everett Ellis both recovered timely fumbles, and Meredith also had an interception.
Holan praised his defense for stopping “one of the most explosive offenses we’ll face this year.”
Meredith, Willrich, Pacult and Kossak led the Highlander defense with seven tackles each, and Kossak, Andrew Meredith and Wills Bird broke up a number of passes on excellent anticipation and athleticism.
Kossak personally stopped Salesian from scoring by twice breaking up passes in the end zone.
“I felt great for Frank; he has a work ethic like Gabe, and it’s great to see the results,” said Holan.Willis Bird covered Salesian’s best receiver all night, “and he didn’t get beat once,” exclaimed Holan. Holan had special praise for Spencer Chan who, he said, “played his best game of the year on offense and defense.”
“We’re finally more physical up front,” he continued. “Guys are using their hands more and making correct reads. We had a really good week of practice, one of our best all year.”
Holan also had praise for Defensive Coordinator Nick Safer, who “made adjustments to neutralize their most effective toss plays. [He] and made [Salesian] more one-dimensional.
Piedmont’s’ special teams players made it difficult for Salesian to gather any momentum. Landheer’s last punt pinned Salesian on their own 7-yard line, but the Pride mounted an impressive drive late in the game. With barely one minute left, Salesian pushed in for a touchdown and two-point conversion for the final score, 24-15.
Addressing his players following the game, Holan said, “I’ve never seen you guys so calm after a win. This is what it’s supposed to feel like. We learned our lesson last week; you can’t have two weeks of sloppy practice and expect to go out and beat a good football team.”
Watson led the Highlanders with 24 carries for 139 yards and 2 touchdowns, and Kim connected on 4 of 9 passes for 42 yards, along with 6 carries for 56 yards.
Reflecting on key moments in the game, Holan said, “Josh’s 45-yard field goal was huge for us; it enabled us to manage the clock and control field position through the 2nd half.”
With the good news of Piedmont’s win came the reality of the rigors of football. Senior Connor Addiego, a key offensive lineman, left the game in with what appears to be a broken toe, and Jacob Watson reinjured his shoulder and sat out much of second half.
Piedmont (3-1) has no game this week and will play McClymonds of Oakland on Friday, October 2 at Witter Field at 7 p.m.
“The McClymonds game is huge,” he said. “We’ve never played them. We expect a packed house – and we need it. I want to encourage everyone to wear purple.”