Southside beats Fort Payne, wins second straight region title

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Chris McCarthy/Editor

Due in large part to a timely stop by junior linebacker Hunter Armstrong, Southside High made school history on Friday (Oct. 24) at Barney Hood Stadium.

With Fort Payne driving for a tying touchdown with under three minutes left in the game, Armstrong’s tackle of Desmon Turner for no gain on a completed pass on a fourth down and 5-yard conversion attempt at the SHS 25-yard line effectively sealed Southside’s 27-17 win and clinched the Class 6A, Region 7 title.

It was the first time in the program’s history that the Panthers won back-to-back region/area championships. 

Southside (8-2, 6-0) will host a first round playoff game on Nov. 7.

“Coach [Charles] Nails just gave me the right read on that play,” said Armstrong, who also stopped Tuner for no gain on the previous third down play. “I read it and I hit [Turner]. I couldn’t do it without all my teammates.”

Holt Keeling’s 44-yard touchdown run at 7:22 of the final period stood up as the winning score. The Wildcats had tied the score at 17-17 two minutes earlier on Desmon Tuner’s 1-yard score.

Following the Panther’s late defensive stand, the hosts were able to run out the clock when Keeling ran for 12 yards and a first down with under a minute remaining.

“I’m really proud of these kids,” said SHS head coach Ron Daugherty. “They faced a lot of adversity in this game and just battled. Hunter has been making plays on this field since he was an eighth grader. I feel like he has been here forever, but I’d love to have him for about five more years.

“We made a few adjustments at halftime, but the biggest adjustment was getting after them a little bit more. [Fort Payne] had a good game plan and their guys were getting off blocks and flying to the football. Luckily, we found some things that worked.”

The Panthers’ 10-3 halftime lead lasted until the visitors’ second possession of the second half on Logan Ellis’ 33-yard touchdown pass to Wanya King at 2:20 of the third quarter. 

Southside regained the advantage on the ensuing series. Highlighted by a 21-yard run by Aleric Williams and a 19-yard scamper by Keeling, the eight-play, 74-yard drive was capped by Colton Helms’ 2-yard touchdown run. 

With Carter West’s extra point, the hosts went ahead 17-10 five seconds into the fourth quarter.

But the Wildcats responded on the next possession, as Tuner’s 31-yard run helped set up his game-tying touchdown run at 9:18. 

Keeling finished with 120 yards on 12 carries, while Williams rushed 13 times for 87 yards. Helms added 37 yards on eight attempts. 

Both teams had difficulty moving the ball for the better part of the first half. Southside’s first three possessions ended in a lost fumble and two punts. 

But the Panther defense held the fort with a pair of stops fourth down conversion attempts, and Southside got on the scoreboard first with West’s 37-yard field goal at 3:11 of the second period.

The Southside defense came through on the next Fort Payne drive when defensive end Ben Mills picked off a pass and returned it 30 yards for the score and a 10-point lead with 2:28 left before halftime.

The Wildcats then put together their first scoring drive, one that was aided by Ellis’ 43-yard pass to Turner. Evan McPherson’s 38-yard field goal drew Fort Payne within 10-3 with 14 seconds remaining before the break.

Ellis completed 9-of-16 passes for 134 yards. Turner had two catches for 48 yards and rushed four times for 75 yards.

“Fort Payne is a heck of a team and they kept fighting back, but our kids stepped up and made plays,” said Daugherty. “This makes a statement for our program in that these kids proved that last season was no fluke.”

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