FORT PAYNE — After escaping Scottsboro with their fourth-straight win last week, the Fort Payne Wildcats seek win No. 5 and a chance to remain undefeated in Class 6A Region 7 play.
The Wildcats host the Southside-Gadsden Panthers at Wildcat Stadium on Friday.
Fort Payne (5-1, 4-0) returns home after holding off Scottsboro with a last-minute, goal-line stand for a 41-34 win at Trammell Stadium last Friday night.
After leading by as many as 17 points in the second half, Fort Payne endured a Scottsboro comeback that tied the game at 34 in the fourth quarter. Hunter Love rushed for a late score to give Fort Payne the go-ahead touchdown and the defense kept Scottsboro out of the end zone as the final seconds ticked away.
This week, Fort Payne’s defense will be tasked with slowing a Southside (5-2, 2-2) team with a balanced offense that has produced 103 points in its last two contests.
“(The Panthers) are able to throw and run the ball consistently,” Wildcats coach Chris Elmore said.
Among Southside’s offensive weapons are quarterback Michael Rich Jr. and running back Carnel Davis. Elmore said Rich will challenge the Wildcats’ secondary with deep throws and Davis has the ability to race to the end zone on any given play.
Rich and Davis were mentioned in this week’s AHSAA Football Spotlight, a weekly recap of milestones and top performances sent to media members.
Rich completed 16-of-25 passes for 321 yards and two touchdowns in the Panthers’ 54-41 win against Springville last week. He also rushed for four touchdowns, accounting for six of the Panthers’ nine scores.
Additionally, Davis rushed for 300 yards and a touchdown on 33 carries in the win against Springville and caught two passes for 45 yards.
“They have a solid offensive line as well, so we will have to be much improved this week on defense in order to stop them consistently,” Elmore said.
The Panthers routed Sardis 49-7 on Sept. 25, a week after taking their second loss in a row, 28-27 at Region 7 foe Arab. They have wins against region opponent Pell City, Hokes Bluff and Lincoln.
J.D. Blalock passed for a season-high 256 yards on 12 of 18 attempts with two touchdowns for the Wildcats last week. Cam Thomas was his top target, finishing the night with seven receptions for 170 yards and two scores. Love led the team’s rushing effort with 103 yards on 26 attempts and three scores.
Defensively, Devin Wells led Fort Payne with nine tackles and Caden Holbrook had seven.
Coming into this week’s game, Southside’s defense has surrendered an average of 27 points per game. The most the Panthers have allowed to an opponent so far this season was in a 56-0 loss against region rival Oxford.
The Panthers play use multiple defensive formations, which could potentially create issues for Fort Payne’s offense, Elmore said. Southside played with three down linemen earlier in the season and have been a four-man front defense as of late.
“We will be prepared for both (defensive fronts), as they sometimes switch throughout the game,” Elmore said.
Defensive lineman Garrett Orr and linebackers Maddox Parsons and Hayden Fry have been consistent playmakers for Southside this season, Elmore said.