FORT PAYNE — Fort Payne looks to remain top cat.
The longtime rivalry between Fort Payne and Scottsboro continues at 7 p.m. Friday, as Fort Payne aims to retain the TopCat Trophy for a second straight year in a Class 6A, Region 7 clash at Scottsboro.
“The fact that we are so close to each other, both our school colors are black and gold, and both our mascots are Wildcats have made this a natural rivalry over the years,” Fort Payne coach Chris Elmore said.
“It has always been intense and the games are always very physical. I expect this game to be no different. It will be very difficult to win on their home field and we will have to play our best football in order to have a chance of winning the game.”
The Wildcats of Fort Payne regained the rivalry’s prized TopCat Trophy last season after earning a 42-7 victory at Wildcat Stadium.
Coming into Friday’s 86th meeting between the DeKalb County and Jackson County programs, Fort Payne (4-1, 2-0) boasts a three-game win streak after defeating Etowah 35-21 in a non-region tilt last week. Scottsboro (2-3, 1-2) held North Jackson to one first-half score en route to a 22-6 win last week.
Hunter Love led Fort Payne’s rushing effort with 194 yards on 32 carries with two touchdowns in last week’s win. J.D. Blalock ran for two scores behind 10 carries for 50 yards, adding a 5-of-8 passing effort for 88 yards and a 34-yard scoring pass to Sawyer Burt early in the fourth quarter.
“I thought we were able to stay patient and stay with our run game and keep giving Hunter opportunities,” Elmore said. “The more opportunities that he got, the better that he did and he eventually wore down their defense.
“J.D. made some big throws and runs at some key moments that allowed us to pull away and secure the win.”
Fort Payne and Etowah traded scores before Fort Payne gained advantage in the fourth.
Blalock hit Burt across the middle for a touchdown with 10:06 remaining in regulation for the go-ahead score, 28-21. Blalock added an 8-yard scoring run with 2:45 left to give Fort Payne a two-score lead and put the game out of Etowah’s reach.
Devin Wells and Seth Williams led Fort Payne’s defensive showing with 10 tackles apiece. Wells intercepted a pass and Williams had four tackles for loss.
“(Etowah’s offensive players) were very challenging,” Elmore said. “We worked very hard for two weeks on tackling in space and trying to use the proper leverage between defenders to try and tackle a ball carrier. We did a pretty good job for the most part as we held them to just over 100 yards rushing as a team. But, they have players that you cannot stop the entire night. Fortunately, we stopped them enough and made just enough plays on offense to win.
“I was very proud of our defense and our defensive coaches. I thought our defensive effort was the difference in the game.”
Jacob Manning ran for 94 yards and a touchdown in helping lift Scottsboro past North Jackson last week. Javaris Branford added 65 yards rushing and a score, and Gavin McCrary threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Kaylem Dupree.
Noah Linville recorded seven tackles (five solo) for Scottsboro, and Barclay Butler, Sam Dukes and Thomas Rackler finished with five stops each.
Branford scored on a 9-yard run to give Scottsboro the lead with 8:25 left in the opening period, before North Jackson’s Kyle Posey hauled in a 17-yard scoring pass from Dalton Morris to tie things with 2:07 remaining in the half.
McCray’s scoring connection with Dupree put Scottsboro in the lead for good at 13-6 early in the third. Manning tackled on a 7-yard scoring run early in the fourth before Scottsboro earned a safety with 54 seconds remaining.
“Manning does a really good job directing their offense,” Elmore said. “He is a physical runner and very difficult to bring down. He reminds me of Hunter in some ways, as he has the ability to turn 2-yard runs into 5-yard runs. This adds up over the course of the game and is difficult to defend.”
Fort Payne owns a 51-31-3 series advantage against Scottsboro. The TopCat Trophy has traded hands for four straight seasons.
In last year’s rivalry meeting, Blalock threw touchdown passes of 52 and 34 yards to former teammate and current Jacksonville State player Matthew Shaddix to give Fort Payne a 14-0 advantage early in the second quarter.
Shaddix and Darwin Camp each added 3-yard touchdown runs to extend Fort Payne’s lead to 28-0 at halftime.
A 10-yard scoring run by Shaddix in the third quarter pushed Fort Payne ahead 35-0 midway through the third, before Scottsboro scored its first points courtesy of a Manning 2-yard scoring run with 34 seconds left in the quarter.
Blalock connected with Shaddix for a third touchdown reception with 8:35 left in regulation to seal the scoring.
Elmore said Scottsboro coach Don Jacobs and his defensive staff have always done a good job at taking away Fort Payne’s strength and expects the same effort Friday night.
“I am sure they will have a very good plan to defend our run game and specifically Hunter. We will have to execute very well in order to move the football consistently against them,” Elmore said.
Jackson County Sentinel sports editor Jason Bowen contributed to this report.