HUNTSVILLE – The Fort Payne Wildcats were in control from start to finish in Friday’s 42-0 win over the Lee-Huntsville Generals and secured a 3-0 start in regional play.
The Wildcats had a strong start after a 40-yard return across midfield on the opening kickoff by Carter Pinholster, but they lost the ball on a fumble three plays later.
The Generals then moved the ball inside the red zone, but the Wildcat defense answered with their first of several stands on the night by stopping Lee short on a fourth-and-8 from the 16.
The Wildcats took over from their own 10 and got out of the shadow of their own goal post when the Generals were flagged for pass interference.
Quarterback J.D. Blalock later connected on passes to Pinholster and Matthew Shaddix on gains of six and 11 yards before tailback Hunter Love barreled his way across midfield on a few carries.
The 9-play drive would be capped off through the air though as Blalock followed a 12-yard completion to Pinholster with a 39-yard strike to Shaddix for a touchdown. Alex McPherson then hit his first of six PATs to put Fort Payne up 7-0 late in the first quarter.
Lee’s next possession started a trend in Friday’s matchup as it ended with the first of five Fort Payne interceptions on a third-and-long heave that landed in the arms of Kevin Hightower.
The ‘Cats couldn’t turn that turnover into points after Love had a 44-yard pickup get called back for holding. Fort Payne’s defense then came up big again when Robbie Graham picked off a pass and returned nearly 30 yards to the Lee 31-yard line.
The game’s next snap saw Love bully his way past multiple defenders before getting pushed out of bounds near the end zone pylon. Love scored from two yards out a play later to double Fort Payne’s lead with 10:08 left in the first half.
Lee’s next drive ended the same way the previous two did when another third-down was picked off. This time it was Samuel Hotalen who forced the turnover and gave the Wildcat offense the ball 27 yards from the end zone.
In three consecutive handoffs, Love covered those 27 yards and scored from 11 yards out to stretch the lead to 21 just two minutes after his first score.
After a Lee three-and-out, the Generals had a short punt set up the Wildcats in scoring range again. Their next drive saw Love and Tyler Newton combine to move the ball 37 yards in five plays, with Newton scoring from nine yards out to make the lead 28-0 with 4:43 left in the first half.
Another quick three-and-out gave the Wildcats enough time for one last scoring drive in the half. That drive was highlighted by a 35-yard strike from Blalock to Sawyer Burt.
Love scored a play later from 10 yards out to make the lead 35-0 at halftime.
The Wildcat defense opened the second half with another three-and-out before Fort Payne’s offense followed with their final scoring drive of the night.
This one lasted five plays and covered 69 yards. It started with runs of 17 and 26 yards by Love and Pinholster and ended on a 25-yard touchdown pass from Blalock to Pinholster in the back corner of the end zone.
Cam Thomas put an end to Lee’s next possession with the Wildcats’ fourth interception of the night.
Fort Payne then drove down inside the 10 on a drive highlighted by a 27-yard gain by Solomon Strong, but it ended when a Will Abbott pass was picked off near the goal line. The Lee defender returned it nearly 100 yards to the other end zone, but a penalty against the Generals negated the return.
Fort Payne’s Caden Holbrook later hauled in the Wildcats’ final interception of the night.
Blalock had a perfect night throwing the ball. He completed all 10 of his passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns. Pinholster hauled in five of those passes for 57 yards and a score. Shaddix caught four for 53 yards and a score and Burt caught one pass for 35 yards.
Love finished with 118 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 16 carries. Newton had two carries for 17 yards and a score.
The Wildcats will head north again next week for another regional bout at Buckhorn.