FORT PAYNE – The Fort Payne Wildcats gave fans and supporters their first chance to get a glimpse of their 2019 squad in action Thursday night in a spring jamboree game against the Chattooga Indians at Wildcat Stadium.
Fort Payne and Chattooga had their varsity squads duke it out for two quarters of play before closing out the jamboree with a few series for JV players.
The Wildcats varsity team bounced back from a slow start and eventually jumped ahead 17-0 before the JV squads came onto the field.
Fort Payne’s opening drive saw rising senior Matthew Shaddix move behind center after working as a receiver and ball carrier for the past few seasons.
Senior classmate and starting tailback Donald Winchester started Thursday’s scrimmage with a 9-yard carry before Shaddix completed a short pass to sophomore tight end Sawyer Burt, who took the ball up the right sideline for an 18-yard pickup that moved the ‘Cats into Chattooga territory.
Nine yards from Winchester on his next two carries along with a neutral zone infraction call against the Indians gave the Wildcats a fresh set of downs inside the 35-yard line.
Shaddix then found Winchester on a quick screen pass that gained 10 yards, but three plays later the ‘Cats lost possession when a third-down pass over the middle was picked off by the Indians.
Chattooga’s offense was dedicated to pounding the ball between the tackles throughout Thursday’s scrimmage. The Indians did so successfully on their opening drive and moved the chains twice before facing fourth-and-inches from the Fort Payne 44-yard line.
Chattooga tried to keep the drive alive with a QB sneak, but the Wildcats’ front line kept the Indians from gaining any yardage on the play and forced a turnover on downs.
Junior J.D. Blalock then moved in at the quarterback spot for Fort Payne’s next drive. He had one completion to Winchester called back on a personal foul penalty before Fort Payne was forced to punt.
The Wildcat defense the forced a three-and-out that ended when the Indians’ first pass attempt was broken up by Fort Payne senior Dylan Ledford.
Shaddix then moved back under center and led the Wildcats on their first scoring drive. He ran for three yards on the first play from their own 31 before Winchester ripped off a 15-yard carry for a first down near midfield.
On their next play, Shaddix rolled to his right before firing the ball downfield to senior receiver Solomon Strong. With a defender closing in on him, Strong hauled in the 42-yard bomb and set up first-and-goal for the Wildcats at the 9-yard line.
After a 6-yard carry from Winchester and a penalty on Chattooga, Shaddix ran a bootleg to his left on third-and-goal before finding senior Micah Simpson open in the end zone for a 2-yard strike.
Alex McPherson hit the extra point to put Fort Payne ahead 7-0 with 26 seconds left in the first quarter.
Chattooga was moving the ball on the ground effectively again on their next drive before a pair of big stops near midfield ended the possession.
After picking up a pair of first downs, the Indians faced third-and-2 at their own 44. They handed the ball to their bruising tailback Lashaun Lester, but Fort Payne’s Darwin Camp and Ledford brought him down near the line of scrimmage for a minimal gain.
The Indians then went for it on fourth down and handed the ball to Lester again. This time the Wildcats punched the ball loose before Camp recovered it to force a turnover.
A facemask penalty on Chattooga and a 6-yard completion from Blalock to B.J. Brown set up McPherson with a 46-yard field goal attempt. With no rush coming from the defense, McPherson drilled the ball through the uprights to put Fort Payne ahead 10-0 with 6:54 left in the second quarter.
Fort Payne’s defense then forced another three-and-out that ended when senior linebacker Nate Crane swung down a Chattooga ball carrier for no gain on third-and-2.
Winchester started the Wildcats’ next drive with a 6-yard carry before Kevin Hightower picked up 10 yards and a first down near midfield.
Shaddix then moved the chains through the air three times over the next four plays. That run of completions started with a 14-yarder to Samuel Hotalen. Shaddix then scrambled to his right before finding Brody Bruce open for an 11-yard gain. He then found Burt open again for another 14-yard gain to move the Wildcats’ offense into the red zone.
Two plays later, Shaddix called his own number and raced down the right sideline for a 14-yard touchdown run. McPherson’s extra point made the score 17-0 with 2:54 left to play.
Chattooga then had their best drive of the game and got down to the Wildcats’ 2-yard line, but a goal-line stand from Fort Payne’s defense kept the shutout intact.