FORT PAYNE — It’s official: the Fort Payne Wildcats can look ahead to the postseason.
The Wildcats raced to a 33-point halftime lead and cruised to a 39-24 win against Carver-Birmingham in a regular-season finale for both sides Friday night.
J.D. Blalock threw for 183 yards and two touchdown passes, Matthew Shaddix finished with 130 yards receiving and two TDs and Hunter Love added 96 yards rushing and two scores to propel Fort Payne (8-2) to a win on senior night.
Fort Payne bounced back from last week’s loss to Cullman and evened the series against the Rams at 1-1. Carver (4-6) won last year’s inaugural meeting 28-7.
Carter Pinholster returned the game’s opening kickoff 99 yards down the right sideline for a score and the Wildcats grabbed early momentum.
Blalock hit Shaddix across the middle for an 18-yard score to cap a six-play drive, making it 14-0 with 8:32 remaining in the opening quarter.
The Rams got an extended drive after Fort Payne was called for roughing the kicker on a punt attempt midway through the first quarter. Carver’s drive only lasted three more plays and stalled after Shaddix’s sack for a 6-yard loss on Carver’s 29.
The Wildcats fumbled on the ensuing kick return and the Rams recovered the ball with great field position at the 27.
They couldn’t capitalize, however.
Back-to-back penalties and a pair of incomplete passes gave Fort Payne the ball back, leaving plenty of time to score before quarter’s end. Love broke free for a 38-yard scoring run to the right and extended the lead to 21-0.
Alex McPherson nailed field goals of 43 and 32 yards to give Fort Payne a 27-0 advantage, before Blalock found Shaddix again for a 6-yard TD with 14 seconds left in the half.
Love added a 9-yard scoring run in the third to give the Wildcats their largest lead of the night at 39-0.
Fort Payne pulled its starters before the Rams scored. Carver recovered its second Fort Payne fumble midway through the fourth and reached the end zone for the first time on a 68-yard TD connection, before adding two more scores inside the last 5 minutes.
The Rams finished their season after losing six-straight games.
Fort Payne begins postseason play next Friday, hosting Hartselle in the first round of the AHSAA Class 6A state playoffs at 7 p.m.