There was a point late in the first half on Sept. 23 when it looked like Piedmont High School’s football team might be in trouble at Arroyo in the West Alameda County Conference Shoreline Division opener.
The game was tied 8-8 and the Highlanders best player Sam Shelby had been ejected for an altercation with the Dons Gabriel Flores.
But Piedmont went on a six-play, 61-yard drive to a six-yard touchdown run by quarterback Markos Lagios. He then ran in the two-point conversion and the Highlanders had a 16-8 lead that they would never relinquish in a 36-8 victory.
Piedmont is now 3-2 on the year, having won three in a row after losing to Pierce-Arbuckle and Miramonte to open the season. The Highlanders will get a week off and face Alameda on Oct. 7.
Arroyo got off to an 8-0 lead on an 11-yard touchdown run by Willie Johnson on the Dons first possession of the game. From that point on, Piedmont’s defense held Arroyo to 62 yards on 27 offensive plays.
“Our D tackles and our linebackers have been playing strong against really big opponents, but we’ve just been staying composed and everybody has been rallying and making plays,” Jordan Alemania said. “We saw their big size and they stacked up their line really well. We just wanted to match up their gaps and we want our backers and our D linemen to all just fill. Once we stopped the run, we just stunted their offense.”
A huge moment came when Piedmont stopped Arroyo on a fourth down at the Piedmont 16. Brandon Dicke came on a blitz to stop quarterback Jonah Shelton on a run.
“We called lightning, that’s when I blitz off the outside,” Dicke said. “It was a dive play in the middle into A-gap. Albert Bellingrath came inside, so he freed the outside up so I made the tackle and stopped that.”
Three plays later, Tommy Ashton ran the ball in from the 1. Ashton had fumbled around the Arroyo 10 on the previous possession and savored the redemption.
Then, Piedmont stopped the Dons on a fourth down at the Highlanders 16. On the next play, Lagios busted loose for an 84-yard touchdown run. The offensive line opened a huge whole at the line of scrimmage and Lagios made a cut in the middle of the field and then outran everybody to the end zone.
“The O-line on that one,” Lagios said. “The O-line made their blocks, it was perfect. Everyone got their man. That’s what happens when we execute. I felt it. I’m pretty sore right now. I wasn’t sure. I thought I was going to get caught. I try to go as fast as I can.”
Lagios, who had already run in two two-point conversions in the game was stuffed on this one and it was 30-8.
Arroyo lost a fumble on the first play after the ensuing kickoff and the Highlanders went on a six-play, 62-yard drive capped by 15-yard pass from Lagios to Cash Elmquist. The two-point try failed again leaving the score at 36-8.
Piedmont had to go for two the rest of the day after Shelby was ejected with nine minutes, 54 seconds to go in the second quarter. Arroyo had attempted a pass on the left sideline in front of the Dons bench from Shelton to Flores. Brayden Hong knocked Flores out of bounds. Several players from both teams began barking and, according to the officials, Shelby threw a punch. Flores responded by firing the ball at the face of a Piedmont player from close range.
Shelby had already been ejected from the season-opener at Pierce for getting two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. Per National High School Federation rules, two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties is an automatic ejection. Per North Coast Section rules, Shelby had to sit out the next game against Miramonte.
According to the NCS rules, a second ejection during a season is an automatic three-game suspension. So is a first time offense for throwing a punch. Suspensions for such acts are generally only waived if a team can prove that officials ejected the wrong player (such as with video evidence).
Shelby’s potential loss was the only bad news on the day for Piedmont. The Highlanders rushed for 294 yards on 41 carries. The defense had two sacks of Shelton and pressured him almost every time he dropped back to pass. Alemania had a huge game, seeming to be in the backfield the entire afternoon.
“We were going against some tough O-linemen but we were able to create some pressure,” Alemania said. “In the third quarter and the fourth quarter, when we really pulled away. You could tell they were tired.”
Before the previous game against Encinal, the linebackers, according to Dicke, had predicted they would get an interception. That didn’t happen then, but Dicke iced the game late with an interception of Shelton.
“We actually made a bet,” Dicke said. “Last week we said linebackers are getting a pick. This week, we made up for it with a fumble recovery and an interception.”
Said Lagios, “I think our defense is getting better every week. They’re figuring out the system. They ran a completely different offense than all the other teams we played. I’m super-happy.”