FORT PAYNE – The Fort Payne Wildcats completed their second consecutive perfect run through regional play Friday at home with a 45-28 win over the Hazel Green Trojans.
After a back-and-forth start, Fort Payne scored 31 unanswered points to seal their seventh win of the year.
The Wildcat defense forced a 3-and-out to start the game and Fort Payne was driving into Trojan territory afterward until a third-down pass was picked off and returned to the Fort Payne 35-yard line.
The Trojans then struck first when quarterback Patrick Mahoney completed a fourth-down pass to Nigel Lanier for a 13-yard touchdown.
The Wildcat offense answered right back with a 66-yard scoring drive that lasted nine plays. That drive saw quarterback J.D. Blalock move the chains through the air twice and once with his legs. Tyler Newton moved the ‘Cats near the 10 with a 12-yard carry and Hunter Love later pounded his way into the end zone from nine yards out to knot the score at 7-all.
Fort Payne’s offense got a chance to take the lead just two plays later when a Hazel Green reverse handoff resulted in a fumble in the backfield. Fort Payne sophomore Darrell Prater dove on the loose ball to give the Wildcats possession inside the Trojans’ 20-yard line. Love then covered 14 yards in two handoffs, scoring from five yards out to put Fort Payne up 14-7 with 2:55 left in the first quarter.
Hazel Green’s following drive looked like it was stalled when Heisman Brown and Darwin Camp sacked Mahoney for an 11-yard loss, but Mahoney connected with Jarren Mitchell on a post route near midfield a play later and Mitchell took it the rest of the way for an 81-yard score that tied the game once again.
The game belonged to Fort Payne from that point on though, starting with their next drive that covered 55 yards in just five plays. On third-and-10 from their own 45, Blalock fired a 20-yard pass to Matthew Shaddix to move the chains.
Two plays later, Blalock rolled out to his right before lobbing a 30-yard touchdown pass to Carter Pinholster to make the score 21-14 with 11:51 to go in the first half.
A sack by Prater helped derail Hazel Green’s next drive and when the Wildcat offense got the ball back, it took them just one play to double their lead. That play saw Shaddix carry the ball around the right side and go 70 yards down the sideline for a touchdown to make the lead 28-14 with 8:16 left in the half.
Hazel Green got near midfield on their next drive before Robbie Graham stepped in front of a Trojan receiver and intercepted a pass.
Shaddix nearly scored again a play later when he took a screen pass from Blalock and raced 28 yards down the right sideline. Two plays later, Love punched in his third touchdown run of the night from seven yards out to stretch the lead to 35-14 before halftime.
Love then continued to punish Hazel Green’s front seven as he opened the second half with a 22-yard gallop across midfield. That run helped set up Alex McPherson for a 55-yard field-goal attempt.
McPherson’s kick knuckled towards the end zone, but it still found its way through the uprights to make the lead 38-14 with 10:58 to go in the third.
A pass interference call against Fort Payne and a successful fake punt call helped get Hazel Green into Wildcat territory on their first drive of the second half. The Trojans wouldn’t cut into the lead though as a third-down throw was picked off by Pinholster near the Fort Payne 20-yard line.
Fort Payne then marched 79 yards in 10 plays. Blalock was 3-for-3 through the air on the drive and capped it off with an 11-yard touchdown strike to Shaddix in the back of the end zone to make the lead 45-14 late in the third.
Hazel Green then scored twice in the fourth quarter while Fort Payne looked to get their reserves some valuable playing time. The first of those came on a 12-yard run by Mahoney and the second was on a 13-yard pass from Mahoney to Lanier.
The Wildcats then inserted Love and Newton back into the game and their running helped burn the last five minutes off of the game clock.
Love received 21 handoffs and racked up 135 yards and three touchdowns in the win and Newton picked up 43 yards on five carries.
Blalock completed 10-of-14 passes for 134 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. His leading receiver was Shaddix, who hauled in seven passes for 87 yards and a score. Shaddix’s lone carry of the night was his 70-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
Pinholster had one catch for a 30-yard touchdown and intercepted a pass on defense. Will Cathey caught one pass for 10 yards and Sawyer Burt had one catch for seven yards.
McPherson was a perfect 6-for-6 on PAT attempts. He hit his lone field-goal attempt from 55 yards out and had all but one of his kickoffs go for a touchback.
The Wildcats will hit the road next to face a former regional rival in the Cullman Bearcats.