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Piedmont capitalizes on Panther mistakes, takes EBAL title game

By Tim Haran Daily Planet Correspondent
Monday November 13, 2000

Two teams took the field Saturday afternoon at St. Mary’s College High School, both unbeaten in the Bay Shore Athletic League. As evening set in Berkeley, only one remained. 

“We rode the horse as far as we could get,” said St. Mary’s coach Dan Shaughnessy, following the Panthers 31-7 loss that gave the Piedmont Highlanders the BSAL title. “We led the universe in mistakes and turnovers. Our mistakes just compounded themselves, it was terrible.” 

Visiting Piedmont (9-1, 5-0) knew that the Panthers’ (8-2, 4-1) offense was built around a strong running game, especially that of junior Trestin George and senior Danny Wheeler. To defeat the Panthers, Piedmont coach Pat George realized what needed to be done. 

“We had two objectives,” he said. “Shut down the power game and get them uncomfortable with different sets. If you’re going to beat St. Mary’s you’ve got to throw the ball and you’ve got to make them throw the ball,” George said. 

The Highlanders scored on their opening drive of the game when quarterback Drew Olson hit Zack Felson streaking down the right sideline. The 55-yard pass play set up a 1st-and-10 at the Panthers’ 25. St. Mary’s couldn’t stop Piedmont on 4th-and-6 as running back Chris Flores found a hole to pick up the first down. Ben Debonis later punched it in from the 1-yard-line to give the Highlanders an early 7-0 lead. 

On St. Mary’s opening drive, Jason Washington’s first pass fell incomplete and Piedmont’s Jeff Bell intercepted his second attempt. However, on the Panthers’ next series, tailback George scrambled 48 yards down the sideline off a screen pass from Washington and into the end zone. 

The score remained tied heading to halftime, then the wheels came off the St. Mary’s defense. 

“The difference between the first and second half,” Shaughnessy said, “was that there was a whole lot of Piedmont and not a lot of us in the second half.” 

Piedmont shut down the Panthers by using what coach George calls a dead set, where extra players line up on one side of the ball forcing linebackers to shift over. “That’s what you need to do to run the ball against St. Mary’s,” George said. 

“They did an excellent job on Trestin and they played really well defensively,” Shaughnessy said. “The only surprise is when they went (to an unbalanced defensive set) on us. Other than that, we pretty much knew what they were going to do, but they stopped us.” 

With 9:37 left in the third quarter, Piedmont’s Bill Betts ran 30 yards for a touchdown to put the Highlanders back on top. Following a St. Mary’s fumble less than a minute later, Piedmont went up 21-7 on wide receiver Pete Schneider’s first of two touchdown catches. After a short Piedmont field goal, St. Mary’s had the Highlanders pinned on their own 1-yard-line with 9:34 left in the game. But Piedmont controlled the clock and with 3:36 remaining, Schneider’s 8-yard touchdown reception capped a remarkable 99-yard Highlander drive. 

Since the inception of the BSAL this season, both Piedmont and St. Mary’s knew that the league title would be won in the final game of the year. 

“This is the season,” said Piedmont’s Schneider, who caught nine passes for 154 yards against St. Mary’s. “We all looked at this game since we got the schedule and knew that this was going to be the league championship game.” 

And it was. 

Each coach had been scouting the other’s team all year. When St. Mary’s was idle, you could bet that Shaughnessy wasn’t far from a Piedmont game. Likewise for George, who played for Shaughnessy more than 30 years ago. 

“I told him (Shaughnessy) after the game that the win was sweet, but the guy’s like a father to me,” George said.