Panthers hosting powerhouse PR
The football program at Piedmont High is making strides under second-year coach Ron Massey.
The Panthers are coming off a marquee win in Week 1, going on the road to defeat defending South Piedmont Conference champion Hickory Ridge by 17 points (37-20).
Now they host Union County powerhouse Porter Ridge tonight in what Panthers coach Ron Massey calls "a great opportunity."
"Porter Ridge isn't a good program, they're a great program," Massey said. "This is going to be a measuring stick to see where we are."
Last year Piedmont found out the Pirates were 51 points better after a 58-7 loss in Indian Trail.
Porter Ridge went on to a 13-2 season and lost the 4A state championship game to New Bern by just one point (39-38).
The Pirates, who are 40-6 since the start of the 2010 season, have actually lost two close games in a row when including last week's opener against Mount Tabor that was decided by a field goal in the final seconds (26-24).
Massey knows Porter Ridge is hungry for a win.
"They're coming off a stinging loss," Massey said. "For us to take the next step we have to beat somebody we aren't supposed to beat. I guess a lot of people didn't expect us to beat Hickory Ridge, but I did. We didn't win that game Saturday, we won it with what we did from January to July. These kids put in the work and I'm glad they got to reap the reward."
Like every other coach that faces Porter Ridge, Massey is concerned about team speed.
Porter Ridge has oodles of it, led by senior running back Jerrick Robbins, who scored two touchdowns in the loss to Mount Tabor.
Robbins said the Pirates have handled the loss pretty well this week.
"We knew it was going to be a dogfight against Mount Tabor, just like it was my sophomore year when we beat them in the playoffs (31-28)," Robbins said. "We knew it would be a game that could go either way. They're one of the toughest teams we'll face all year."
Robbins has watched film of Piedmont this week and sees progress.
"They're pretty good," he said. "They're better than last year's team. They're running a new offense so we'll have to adjust. We're faster than them and we have to take advantage of that."
Porter Ridge has a lot of other weapons, including receivers Luke Bayly and AJ Barrett and dual threat QB Isaiah Hicklin.
Massey, who was pleased with his defense against Hickory Ridge, knows Piedmont will have to play almost flawlessly to stay in the game against Porter Ridge.
"We got out of the gate good against Hickory Ridge because our defense did a good job of getting us the ball back," Massey said. "They forced some turnovers and gave the offense good field position.
"We have a lot of guys back on defense and the experience helps us. We spent a lot of time in the offseason working on our quickness and it looked a lot better the first game, but we still don't have great foot speed. So the key for us is to be in the right position. And we have to tackle well, especially against a team as fast as Porter Ridge. If we don't tackle well, we'll struggle."
Piedmont had just nine seniors on the roster last year, and four of them didn't start.
The Panthers finished 5-7 and in five of those losses, they were either tied or winning at halftime.
"We put a big emphasis on finishing in the offseason," Massey said. "We tried to finish every drill strong and we're trying to carry that mentality into the season."
Massey's goal is to build Piedmont into the type of consistent winner Porter Ridge has become.
"They didn't get to where they are by mistake," Massey said. "They know how to prepare in the offseason and they know how to win games. They know how to maintain their intensity."
Piedmont's offense has looked crisp in the early going, led by junior quarterback Cameron Tripp.
"He's got a good grasp of what we're doing," Massey said of Tripp. "If you're an option team you rely on your quarterback to make the right read and he's done a great job of that so far."
Porter Ridge held its opponents to an average of 6.8 points in the regular season last year.
Piedmont will need to string together some first downs in an effort to shorten the game and limit the Pirates' possessions.
"We have to make people defend the whole field," Massey said. "The good thing is we're not one-dimensional. We don't just have one or two, we have three, four, five guys that can make plays for us."
The Pirates will spread the ball around as well. They used six ball carriers in the opener and Hicklin connected with four different receivers.
"It's not that we played a bad game against Mount Tabor," Robbins said. "I don't think there's a lot we need to do differently. We just need to get a win. If we take advantage of our speed and don't turn it over we'll be fine."