Piedmont head coach Drew Gossen called Piedmont’s most basic of run plays to running back Landon White. There was no intricate blocking scheme or misdirection involved; it was intended to go right up the gut.
And it did, for three yards on a crucial fourth-and-two in the first half against district champion Bishop McGuinness in the final game of the season.
Gossen said as much as anything that showed the improvement his team, which finished 3-7 overall and 3-4 in district play, made from an 0-6 start to a 3-1 close to the season. Earlier in the season, Gossen wouldn’t have had the confidence in his line to make a hole, by season’s end he did.
“To be able to have confidence in those guys, look them in the eyes and say we’ve got two yards, go get it,” Gossen said. “That’s part of the identity we developed. It shows that we got a lot better, because there were times in the year that wasn’t something I thought we could do.”
Piedmont ran for more than 100 yards in three of its last four games. No small feat for a team that struggled just to stay out of negative yardage early in the season.
And the improvement has a chance to continue next season. Piedmont returns its top two rushers, quarterback Noah Ellis and four of its five starters along the offensive line. Only starting center Austin Rhines graduates.
“Seeing how many guys we have coming back on both sides of the ball is good,” Gossen said. “Our defensive front seven largely returns and the same is true with our offensive line. We’re excited about that.”
Defensively, an injury to starting senior defensive tackle Kohl Francis forced Piedmont to flip from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4 in the middle of the season. Though it wasn’t ideal at the time, it allowed outside linebackers Elijah Cavaness and Christian Bricker to excel at rushing the passer. They’re both back along with inside linebackers Jacob Bakewell and Dylan Meador.
“Those guys were there a lot making plays and really made life for the other teams’ quarterback difficult,” Gossen said. “If you can start there defensively you’re on the right track.”
Piedmont does have to replace leading tackler Cody Winkle, starting safety Hunter Chism and both starting cornerbacks.
“Cody Winkle will be a hard guy to replace,” Gossen said.
The ‘Cats also lose kicker, placekicker and punter Butch Hampton, their first FBS level signee since Sir Demarco Bledose signed with TCU in 2007. Hampton is committed to Western Michigan and expects to enroll at the school in January. Hampton made 16-of-18 extra points and hit a career-long 44-yard field goal this season.
Next season, Piedmont adds Lawton Ike, Northwest Classen and Woodward to its district slate, replacing Deer Creek, Southeast and Western Heights. El Reno, Weatherford and Noble make up the Wildcats non-district schedule to open the season.
Maybe most importantly, Piedmont won’t face the district’s top teams in consecutive weeks early in the season as it has the previous two years. PHS opens district play against Classen, who went 0-10 last season.
“The nice thing, in my opinion, is that our schedule isn’t front-loaded,” Gossen said. “If things hold true and we continue to improve and get those guys at the end of the year instead of the beginning – that makes a big difference.”