By Cody Dowler/Fort Payne Times-Journal
Fort Payne got off to a promising start against Southside but ultimately fell short in a 31-34 loss in Class 6A, Region 7 action on Sept. 2 at Barney Hood Stadium.
The visiting Wildcats held Southside (3-0, 1-0) to a three-and-out on their opening drive. Fort Payne’s offense then took over from its own 40-yard line. The Wildcats’ running game, led by J.C. Groat, carried the offense to the Southside 23 before Evan McPherson booted a 40-yard field goal to put the ‘Cats up 3-0 early.
Fort Payne’s defense forced the Panthers into a third-and-long situation. Southside threw downfield and Levee Hall came down with the interception to end another Panther drive. The Wildcats (0-3, 0-1) weren’t able to move the ball, though, and McPherson’s punt pinned the Panthers at their own 18-yard line.
Southside’s offense finally broke loose when the Panthers completed an 82-yard touchdown pass and took their first lead of the night early in the second quarter at 7-3.
The Wildcats responded on their following drive. A screen pass from quarterback Jay Tyler Ellis to Groat went for 30 yards. Marcus Chaney took a jet sweep to the left side for 12 on the next play and Groat eventually fought his way into the end zone to give Fort Payne back the lead.
The Fort Payne defense had the Panthers stopped outside of field goal range, but a controversial pass interference call gave the Southside offense new life. The Panthers ran their way into the end zone with less than a minute remaining in the half and go up 14-10 at halftime.
The Wildcat offense found more success in the ground game to start the second half.
Fort Payne ran the ball nearly 70 yards on their opening drive, which was highlighted by a 34-yard sweep from Chaney. Groat punched it in from there for his second touchdown of the night.
The Fort Payne defense stepped up immediately afterwards and stopped the Panthers short on a fourth-and-two run. The Wildcats took over at their own 43-yard line.
Colton Wells took a handoff up the middle on the first play of the drive and took off for a 57-yard touchdown. The play gave Fort Payne their biggest lead of the night with 5:22 remaining in the third quarter.
Southside’s offense came alive again after that point. The Panthers went on to score three unanswered touchdowns to go up 34-24 with less than six minutes left in the game.
Jay Tyler Ellis stepped up in a big way on the following drive. He completed passes to Chaney, Wells and Hall and then had a 14-yard touchdown run to cut the Panther lead to three.
McPherson attempted an onside kick then, and the Wildcats weren’t able to recover it. Southside ran the clock out from there for the 34-31 win.
For the Panthers, Kenneth Bothwell and Triston Shaw each rushed for two touchdowns, while Austin Winningham ran for another.
Southside continues region play this week with a visit to Pell City.