By Matthew Martin/Sports Correspondent
Southside had Week 4 circled on its 2013 schedule all year, and the game was everything the Panthers had hoped for and more.
Fort Payne (2-2, 1-2) defeated Southside six of the last seven seasons, but the Panthers (4-0, 3-0) worked out their frustrations in a 28-14 win last Friday (Sept. 20) in Class 5A, Region 7 high school football action at Barney Hood Stadium.
Fort Payne defeated Southside by an average of 33 points per game in those six wins over the last seven seasons.
“This is the next step,” Southside interim coach Ron Daugherty said after the game.
Southside senior halfback Blake Devine helped the team take that step in scoring a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns.
“We probably shouldn’t have been, but we were thinking about this game way before Hokes Bluff (in Week 1),” said Devine. “This is what we’ve been waiting for all year. We knew the second we walked out on this field, this game was ours. We knew it. The seniors had it in their heart. We weren’t going to be denied, no matter what.”
That emotion quickly translated into points.
Aleric Williams returned the game’s opening kickoff to the Fort Payne 37-yard line, and that big play was followed minutes later by a Dantley Coker touchdown run for a 7-0 lead.
Fort Payne answered with a long touchdown drive when Wildcat quarterback Alan Smith found Desmon Turner for a 16-yard touchdown pass with 4:28 left in the opening quarter.
That would be Fort Payne’s last score until 16 seconds were left in the game, when Smith found Turne on a 12-yard touchdown strike.
Though the game was in doubt until Devine got into the scoring, it was almost all Southside between those Wildcat scores.
Devine scored on an 8-yard run to push the Southside lead to 21-7 with 6:23 left in the game. A big play in the drive came when back-up quarterback Tristian Shaw entered the game for starter Greyson Daugherty, who had to leave the game with an injury.
The Panthers had not moved the ball through the air much all night, but Shaw was able to find an open Williams for a 16-yard pass on third-and-long to keep the drive alive.
“I’m so proud of him to step in like that and run that play,” Southside interim coach Ron Daugherty. “We knew he could do it, he does it all the time in practice. We wouldn’t call the play if he can’t complete it in practice.”
That first fourth-quarter touchdown drive was set up on what was the biggest defensive play of the game.
Moments after Smith converted a big third down with a 57-yard run, the Wildcats moved the ball to the Southside 20-yard line in an attempt to tie the game.
Following a short run and two incomplete passes, Fort Payne was faced with a fourth-and-7. Smith rolled out to throw, but Southside defensive end Hunter Sparks blasted through the line, sacking Smith and preserving the Panther lead.
“We had to have it,” Sparks said. “It wasn’t all me. My linebacker Colton Clay set it all up. I owe all the credit to God and him. They did everything for me, I just made the tackle.”
Three minutes later, Devine scored on a 28-yard run to seal the victory.
Southside had its chances in the first half to take charge of the game, but the Panther defense could not get off the field, as the Wildcats converted seven third down-and-long plays.
Southside kept Fort Payne from turning those possessions into points, but the long stretches kept the Panther offense on the sidelines.
Williams did add a 6-yard touchdown run with 1:03 left in the first quarter for a 14-7 SHS lead. That score stood at the half.
Coker led all rushers with 136 yards.
Southside’s seniors had never beaten Fort Payne, before Friday.
“It means the world to us,” Sparks said. “I’ve never beaten Fort Payne since I’ve been in high school. Doing this our senior year, beating them 28-14, I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
Southside travels to Springville on Friday in non-region action.