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.