Photo: Etowah High’s Bennett Nance (73) provides blocking for Ollie Finch (6) during the Blue Devils’ a 56-32 win over Southside on Sept. 20 in Attalla. (Gary Wells)
By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent
Class 5A, No. 4 Etowah withstood a valiant effort from county rival Southside to improve to 3-0 in Region 6 play and 5-0 overall with a 56-32 win on Friday, Sept. 20, at Jim Glover Field in Attalla.
Both offenses kept the scoreboard operator busy in the first half, as the Blue Devils built a 42-32 halftime lead.
Brady Troup threw his first of five touchdowns on the Blue Devils’ opening drive on a short pass to Ollie Finch for a 43-yard touchdown to give Etowah a 7-0 lead. Two drives later, Southside’s Michael Rich answered with a 72-yard strike to Cody Roberts to even the score at 7-7 with 5:11 left in the first quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff, Etowah’s NyNy Davis caught the ball on his own 9-yard line and outran every Southside defender for a touchdown, and Etowah regained the lead 14-7 with 4:48 to go in the opening frame.
Three plays later, Rich found Aulden Battles for a 58-yard score. The extra point was blocked, and the Blue Devils’ lead was trimmed to 14-13 with 3:54 left in the first.
Etowah (5-0, 3-0) started its next drive deep inside its own territory and eventually faced a third-and-17 after a fumble and a penalty. Troup’s pass was intercepted by Southside corner Jaxson Whitten and returned for a touchdown to give Southside (0-4, 0-2) its first lead of the game at 19-14.
Etowah’s offense wasted no time in regaining the advantage.
Troup found Davis for a 38-yard pass on third-and-10 to move the Blue Devils into Southside territory, and the two connected again four plays later for an 8-yard score as Etowah took a 21-19 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The Blue Devils forced a three-and-out and took over on the Southside 42-yard line. On the second play of the drive, Troup hit running back Trend Davis out of the backfield for a 29-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 28-19. Davis sprained his ankle on the run and he didn’t return for the remainder of the game.
Southside quickly responded after a 21-yard run by Darryance Wofford and a 37-yard pass from Rich to Carnell Davis. Rich scored on a 12-yard run to close the gap to 28-25 with 7:09 left in the half. Two plays later, Troup found Finch again for a 54-yard touchdown to give Etowah a 35-25 lead.
The next Southside drive took the air out of the ball as the Panthers turned to the ground game. It was Southside’s most methodical and physical drive of the evening. The Panthers marched down the field in 11 plays before Davis scored on a 5-yard run to trim the deficit to 35-32 with 2:21 left in the half.
On the very next play, Etowah went back to the same play to Finch, and it worked for the third time as he scampered down the sideline and evaded several defenders for an 80-yard touchdown. The Blue Devils carried a 42-32 lead into the locker room and they never looked back in the second half.
“(Southside) came out and hit us in the mouth,” said Etowah coach John Holladay. “They came to play. We were a little lethargic in the first half. It just took us a little while to get going. I was really proud of how we played in the second half on both sides.”
The Panthers had a chance to make it a one-score game after forcing a fumble on Etowah’s opening drive of the second half, but Southside missed on a 45-yard field goal attempt.
Neither team scored in the third quarter, but the Blue Devils put the game away on a 13-play drive. Hunter Cox scored from two yards out to push the lead to 49-32 with 8:08 left in the game. NyNy Davis put the finishing touches on the game with 16-yard score.
“We faced some adversity, we had some people go down, but we had some people step up,” Holladay said. “We faced adversity and a lot of challenging things throughout the game, but I thought we stayed the course. I was really proud of them for doing that. We needed to play with a little more effort and attitude.”
Troup completed 13-of-17 passes for 346 yards, five touchdowns and an interception. Finch snagged six passes for 218 yards and three touchdowns. The Blue Devils compiled 487 yards of offense and played the entire second half without standout running back Trent Davis.
Rich threw for 232 yards and two scores, and he also added a touchdown on the ground. Carnell Davis rushed 14 times for 85 yards and also had nearly 50 yards receiving.
“Our kids brought it,” said Southside coach Ron Daugherty. “We asked them to bring it for four quarters, and they did. I was really proud of that. They showed the resiliency of 15-18-year-old kids. Regardless of what’s going on, they prepare the right way and they’re ready to come out here and go to work.
“We’ll take a lot from that moving forward. Bringing that type of intensity when we’re practicing and bringing that type of focus when we’re practicing. The biggest thing is bringing that no matter who our opponent is. It takes time to become a team.”
Both the Panthers and Blue Devils have non-region contests this week. Southside travels to Helena to take on the Class 6A Huskies, who are 3-1 on the year. Etowah hosts undefeated Fort Payne.
Holladay said he wants his team to play with the same level of intensity for all four quarters next week.
“We need to come out and play the way we’re supposed to from the first snap. I hope this is going to be a learning lesson. We’re a big believer in effort, and that’s the way we need to come out and play – with unbelievable effort.”
Southside has endured slow starts in each of the past two seasons but last year rallied from a 1-4 start to host a playoff game and advance to the second round. Daugherty said he believes his team has the potential to finish the season on a strong note.
“It’s different each year,” Daugherty said. “They became more of a team tonight by being unselfish and wanting to do whatever they’ve got to do to become a better teammate. If we keep growing, we have a chance to make some noise late in the season.”