DeKalb County’s top sports stories of 2021

From individual to team triumphs, DeKalb County’s athletes made great strides in 2021. 

With a new year arriving, The Times-Journal looks back at 10 of the top sports stories that made waves in 2021.

1. Fort Payne native McPherson selected in NFL Draft:

With the 149th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Cincinnati Bengals selected University of Florida kicker and Fort Payne native Evan McPherson in May.

The former Fort Payne High School special teams standout bypassed his senior season at Florida for an opportunity to pursue his dream of playing professional football.

McPherson was one of 10 Bengals draft selections. The team made it a mission to reload in the trenches, picking seven linemen in this year’s draft.

McPherson joined LSU wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase (fifth overall) and Michigan running back Chris Evans (202 overall) as Cincinnati’s draftees.

Prior to his college career, McPherson kicked and punted for Fort Payne High School for four years. He helped the Wildcats capture a Class 6A state postseason berth under former head coach Paul Ellis. He was selected to the Under Armour All-American Team and was the No. 1-ranked kicker and No. 5-ranked punter by the Kohl’s Kicking Camp.

While at Fort Payne, McPherson made a 60-yard field goal during his senior season that was a yard shy of the AHSAA state record. He also recorded an 84-yard punt in a game, which was also a yard shy of the state record. 

McPherson chose Florida over Mississippi State and went 2 for 2 on PAT kicks during his participation in the 2018 Under Armour All-America Game.

2. Plainview wins state softball championship:

Facing down a six-game schedule across two days, the Plainview softball team earned the first state championship in program history in May. 

In the winner-takes-all game against Prattville Christian Academy, Plainview recorded three straight outs to seal a 13-0 win at 12:13 a.m. in Oxford. 

Tessa Word earned AHSAA Class 3A Player of the Year honors. Teammates  Lily Boswell and Elaine Puckett joined Word in garnering an all-state first-team accolade. Halle Brown was named to 3A’s second team. 

The Bears finished with a 43-8-1 overall record, fighting off elimination against PCA in Game 1 of the championship round.  

In Game 1, Plainview turned a 4-3 lead into a 13-3 lead with a monstrous nine-run performance in the seventh inning. The double-digit lead proved too much for PCA to overcome and the Bears won 13-4, setting up the if-necessary second game. 

3. Fyffe boys win state basketball title:

Appearing in the state championship round for the first time since 1950, the Fyffe boys basketball team outlasted Montgomery Catholic 49-43 to bring the town of Fyffe its second state championship of the 2020-21 season at Bill Harris Arena in March.

Parker Godwin earned 3A state tournament MVP honors, finishing with a game-high 21 points for Fyffe (27-6). Brody Dalton, who was also named to the all-tournament team, scored 12 points with 11 rebounds, Micah Johnson had 11 points and seven rebounds and Tate Goolesby hauled in 11 rebounds.

Red Devils head coach Neal Thrash announced his retirement following the game. 

The Red Devils lost to Union Hill in the 1950 Class A state championship game. 

In this year’s final, the Red Devils held off the Knights’ comeback attempt while overcoming some free-throw shooting struggles in the fourth quarter.

Fyffe finished 11 of 25 from the foul line, missing nine of their 13 fourth-quarter free-throw tries.

Johnson made a free throw and Dalton added another inside the final 35 seconds to give the Red Devils enough to secure the championship.

4. Fort Payne’s Kuhn caps senior season as state wrestling champ:

After years of progression at the AHSAA state wrestling tournament, Fort Payne’s Riley Kuhn finally broke through and finished his career as a state champion. 

The 220-pound senior defeated Wetumpka’s Abe Preston by a 7-3 decision, highlighting Fort Payne’s fifth-place overall finish in Class 5A-6A at Von Braun Center in Huntsville in February.

Kuhn finished the season with a 24-1 individual record and signed a national letter of intent with Queens University of Charlotte in Charlotte, N.C., in May.

As a sophomore, Kuhn placed fourth overall in his weight class at the state meet. As a junior, he finished as a state runner-up. 

Between his junior and senior seasons, Kuhn added 20-30 pounds of weight, something Fort Payne head coach Austin Panell said assisted in his dominance on the mat.

5. Cornerstone track and field athletes win state titles:

The Cornerstone Christian Academy’s track and field programs won state championships in three of four divisions at the Alabama Christian Athletic Association Track and Field Championships at the University of Montevallo in April.

The success of the school’s track and field programs stems from a five-runner squad assembled during the school’s inaugural track and field season in 2017.

The varsity girls and varsity boys claimed state titles, as did the junior high girls. Combined, the Eagles placed in every event at the state meet.

Sixth-graders Brielle Miller and Lilly Dupree and eighth-grader Allie Wells all placed first in individual events. 

Cornerstone’s varsity girls consisted of only five athletes. The girls placed first in both the 4x100- and 4x200-meter relays, coming less than 1 second from breaking a state record. 

Reagan Gatewood brought home first-place individual medals in the high jump, 200-meter and 400-meter races, breaking the 400-meter state record from 1999. Jacie Bell also brought home the gold in the long jump.

The varsity boys placed first in the 4x100-meter relay. Individual gold winners included Matthew Johnson in the 100-meter race, Jack McGullion in the 200-meter race, Brady Peek in the 400-meter race, Eli Carter in the high jump and Nathan Johnson in both the long jump and triple jump. Nathan Johnson set the school’s triple jump record.

The junior high boys finished second overall. Both the 4x100 and 4x200 relay teams took first place. Jess Nelson and Jake Nelson both brought home first-place medals, following in the footsteps of their older siblings who compete at the college level. 

6. Fort Payne’s Alex McPherson kicks record field goal:

Alex McPherson kicked a state-record 61-yard field goal in the Fort Payne football team’s 32-7 victory against North Jackson in October, breaking his brother Evan McPherson’s previous record of 60 yards.

Alex McPherson’s record-setting kick came with 4 minutes remaining in regulation. His brother’s record had withstood since 2017.

The Auburn University signee made all 27 extra-point kick attempts and 13 of 24 field goals, while punting 24 times for 1,083 yards (45-yard average), during his senior season. 

In addition to setting a new state field goal record, Alex McPherson closed his high school playing career with an Alabama-Mississippi Classic record 58-yard field goal, helping the Alabama All-Stars blank Mississippi 20-0 in the annual game in December. 

7. Geraldine football ends Fyffe’s 51-game win streak:

In October, the Geraldine football team made its own history by ending a historic run. 

The Bulldogs, led by first-year head coach Michael Davis, beat Class 3A, Region 7 rival Fyffe 20-19, ending the Red Devils’ 51-game winning streak. 

At the time, Fyffe held the country’s longest active win streak in high school football. The loss ended Fyffe’s chances of breaking Alabama’s record for most consecutive wins. 

With the Bulldogs maintaining a 20-19 lead, Colton Lusher intercepted a pass from Fyffe quarterback Kyle Dukes. Jaxon Colvin sealed the win when he picked up a fourth-and-1 with 10 seconds remaining.

8. Plainview, Fyffe appear in state volleyball semifinals:

Representing DeKalb County at the AHSAA Class 3A state volleyball tournament, Plainview and Fyffe finished their respective seasons in the state semifinal round in October.

Plainview suffered a 3-0 sweep against Montgomery Catholic in the semifinal round, Fyffe was swept 3-0 by eventual-state champion Trinity Presbyterian and Geraldine was defeated 3-0 by Trinity Presbyterian in a quarterfinal match at the Birmingham CrossPlex.

In the quarterfinals, Plainview (50-17), the top seed from the North, dominated the South’s No. 4 Hale County 3-0 (25-14, 25-14, 25-11).

Jocelyn Hatfield led the Bears with 22 digs, 11 kills and four aces, and Saydi Jackson added 10 digs and eight kills. Ali Price triggered the offense and dished out 24 assists to go with five digs. Abby McGee had 30 digs from her libero spot, and Kami Sanders added four kills, three digs and two aces.   

Against Montgomery Catholic in the semifinal round, the Bears fell 25-19, 25-19, 25-23.

For Plainview, coached by Kaci Kirk, Jackson had six kills and six digs, Hatfield added 14 digs and four kills and Price had 16 assists and five digs. McGee had 21 digs.

Fyffe (31-16) rolled to a straight-set victory against Houston Academy in its quarterfinal match, winning 25-21, 25-19, 25-9.

Libby White handed out 25 assists for the Red Devils, coached by Avery Collins, and Bella Pettis added seven kills and seven digs. Riley Jones contributed six kills and three digs and Chloe Hatch had five kills.

Trinity moved into the championship round with a 25-18, 25-1913, 25-16 victory against Fyffe.

9. Fyffe baseball starts 19-0:

The Fyffe baseball team, managed by head coach Brad Thomas, started the season with a 19-0 record and finished with a region championship and a third-round appearance in the AHSAA Class 3A state playoffs.  

The Red Devils took their undefeated record into late April, taking their first loss against Geraldine in the semifinal round of the DeKalb County Tournament.

Fyffe locked up the region championship early in the season and advanced to the third round of the state tournament, before taking a loss to Phil Campbell in the decisive third game of the postseason series and closing with a 25-3 overall record.

Ike Rowell and Tanner Cowart received all-state accolades for Fyffe. Rowell was also named the county’s top player, as selected by county coaches.

10. Fort Payne, Crossville, Collinsville appear in boys soccer semifinals:

Boys soccer programs of Fort Payne, Crossville and Collinsville made respective state semifinal appearances in May 2021.

Making its third consecutive state semifinal appearance, Fort Payne fell to eventual-state champion Homewood 3-0 at John Hunt Park in Huntsville.

After falling into a 2-0 halftime hole, Fort Payne couldn’t overcome Homewood’s disruptive defense. 

The Wildcats closed with a 17-3-3 overall record. 

After enduring a near-hour stoppage in play due to a sudden storm rushing through the area, Crossville returned to the pitch for the last 11 seconds of regulation and additional minutes. 

The Lions found themselves on the end of an oddly bouncing ball in front of the net in overtime of the rain-soaked AHSAA Class 4A/5A state semifinal match and took a 3-2 loss to Russellville. 

In the first 5-minute, sudden-death overtime period, Russellville’s Juan Cano booted a shot from near midfield and the attempt took a peculiar bounce in front of the goal and skipped past Lions goalkeeper Ernesto Lopez with 30 seconds left, propelling Russellville into the state final. 

Crossville (15-4-0) struck first and led 2-1 at intermission. Kevin Rios sent in a corner kick and Antonio Gallardo headed the ball in for the first point at the 20:29 mark of the opening half. 

In the 1A/3A semifinal round, Collinsville was on the losing end of a second sudden-death overtime session, as Mars Hill Bible’s Jingu Kim blasted a loose ball into the net for a 2-1 victory.

Collinsville finished its season with a 15-5-1 record and was chasing its first state championship since 2014, looking to become just the second public school team since 1993 to win a boys’ state soccer title in the AHSAA’s smallest classification.

Collinsville led for the majority of the semifinal match. Roberto Diaz flicked a header into the net from 2 yards away with 5:03 remaining in the opening half.

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