Fort Payne faces Hartselle’s stingy defense in opener

Fort Payne's Carter Pinholster (1) celebrates after returning a kickoff for a touchdown against Carver-Birmingham last Friday night.

FORT PAYNE — Fort Payne and Hartselle haven’t met since 2012. Coincidently, their previous game was also in the first round of the state playoffs.

The Wildcats’ big offense hosts No. 4-seeded Hartselle and its stingy defense in the opening round of the AHSAA Class 6A state playoffs at 7 p.m. Friday. 

“Hartselle’s defense has been its strength this year,” Fort Payne coach Chris Elmore said.

The Tigers (4-6) have surrendered 38 points in their last five games and a 19.6 points-per-game average this season. They held Cullman to 15 points in an Oct. 18 loss — Fort Payne allowed Cullman 42 in an Oct. 25 loss — and they are coming off a 10-7 loss against Scottsboro in last week’s regular-season finale.

First-year coach Bo Culver leads the Tigers, who finished fourth in Region 7. They scored a season-high in a 76-0 win against Columbia on Oct. 4 — the offensive outburst set program records for most points scored in a game and margin of victory, according to the Alabama High School Football Historians Association.

Elmore and the Wildcats (8-2) have their eyes on a pair of Hartselle linebackers who have given opposing offenses trouble this season. Jackson Boyer (6-foot-4, 225 pounds) and Drew Cartee (6-3, 206).

Both of these guys are always around the football and make a lot of tackles. Our offensive line will have to play really well in order to block these players consistently,” Elmore said. 

The Tigers’ defensive line is led by Seth Lockett (6-1, 225), who shifts from playing nose guard to defensive end. Safety Addison Parker (6-2, 184) patrols the secondary. 

Elmore said Parker can cover a lot of ground.

“Our offense will need to play its best game of the year and not turn the ball over in order to have success against this talented Hartselle defense,” he said.

Fort Payne’s defense looks to contain Hartselle’s dual-threat QB Cal George (5-11, 180) and running back Brinten Barclay (6-1, 197), as both players are difficult to tackle.

“We will have to get multiple defenders to the football when (Barclay) has it, in order to tackle him and get him on the ground,” Elmore said.

Ian Bodine (5-10, 150) is one of George’s top receiving targets in the Tigers’ balanced offense.

“We will have to get lined up correctly, communicate our defensive calls and execute our assignments in order to stop them. It will be a great challenge for us,” Elmore said.

Fort Payne finished its regular season with a 39-24 win against Carver-Birmingham last week. The Wildcats took a 33-0 halftime lead. Carver didn’t score until 4:51 remaining in the fourth, when Fort Payne’s defensive starters had left the game.

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