Wildcats stave off Panthers’ rally

Southside-Gadsden’s Everett Grizzard, left, carries the ball as Fort Payne defenders, including Bennett Blanks (24), close in on him during the first half at Barney Hood Stadium on Friday night.

Fort Payne defended a fourth-down throw inside the final 3 minutes, holding off Southside-Gadsden’s late comeback attempt and escaping with a 24-16 victory at Barney Hood Stadium on Friday night.

The Wildcats improved to 4-3 and 3-1 in Class 6A, Region 7 play after capturing their third straight win.

Southside-Gadsden dropped to 5-3 and 3-2 in region competition.

After leading 24-0 after an Alex Akins 2-yard scoring run early in the fourth quarter, the Panthers connected on a few big plays, including a 66-yard touchdown pass from Brooks Nesmith to Daimon Hitchcock with 9:47 left in regulation. A 2-point conversion run pulled the Panthers within 24-8.

Southside scored again with 3:06 remaining, and an ensuing 2-point conversion throw was successful.

The Panthers recovered an onside kick and began on Fort Payne’s 34-yard line. But the defense held ground and Nesmith’s pass into the end zone on fourth down at the 2:34 mark fell incomplete and the Wildcats ran out the clock.

Fort Payne pulled ahead 17-0 with 8:27 left in the third when Alex McPherson kicked a field goal.

One passing score and one rushing score, along with a stout defensive effort allowed the Wildcats to take a 14-0 halftime advantage.

Jake Barnes got the Wildcats’ fourth series rolling when he hit Connor Cash for a 35-yard gain before a 14-yard run by Kaden Dubose set up Fort Payne on the Panthers’ 31-yard line.

Three plays later, Cash got on the receiving end of a 26-yard pass by Barnes on a third-down play and scored on the left side.

A McPherson extra-point kick gave Fort Payne a 7-0 lead with 36 seconds remaining in the opening quarter.

Southside recovered an onside kick attempt, and despite converting a fourth-and-3 situation at the Fort Payne 43, the defense stymied the drive and forced a punt with 9:58 left in the half.

The Wildcats kept their ensuing drive moving when Barnes connected with Marcus Ledford for a 68-yard pickup on a third-and-5 play. Ledford was tripped from behind at the Southside 14.

Capping the drive, Dubose followed blocks and crashed through defenders on his way for a 7-yard touchdown run.

McPherson’s kick made it a two-score game with 7:23 remaining in the half.

The Wildcats host Pell City next Friday.

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