Wildcats hold off Jaguar rally

FORT PAYNE – The second matchup between the Fort Payne Wildcats and Mae Jemison Jaguars was just as dramatic as the first and yielded the same result as the Wildcats held on for a win by the slimmest of margins.

After a fast start, Fort Payne held off a furious comeback attempt and escaped their home turf Friday with a 31-30 win and a perfect 4-0 record headed into their bye week.

The win marked the second time in as many weeks that the Wildcats had to make big fourth-quarter plays in order to come away with a victory.

“I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished in these last two fourth quarters in spite of what we haven’t accomplished in the three quarters leading up to those,” Fort Payne head coach Chris Elmore said. “I think our defense is playing really, really well. We did give up some big plays to a really good football team there, but I’m proud of our defense. On offense, we’ve got to get a lot better. We didn’t really score in the second half, it was all defense and special teams. If we don’t get better there, we’re going to have a hard time down the stretch.”

The Wildcats got going early with a 14-yard completion from J.D. Blalock to Kevin Hightower on their first play from scrimmage. Three plays later though, a first down carry by Matthew Shaddix ended with a fumble that got scooped up by the Jaguars. It was the first of three lost fumbles by the Wildcats on the night.

Mae Jemison responded with a 14-play drive that ended just short of the end zone when the Wildcats made a fourth-down stop inside their own 20.

Shaddix and Carter Pinholster then kickstarted the Wildcats’ first scoring drive of the evening with runs of 18 and 17 yards to moved the ball near midfield.

Hunter Love then added 21 yards rushing over the next six plays before a Blalock completion to Pinholster saw him reach the 2-yard line. Love punched it in from there to put the Wildcats up 7-0 early in the second quarter.

Mae Jemison’s first play of their next drive saw the ‘Cats pop the ball loose and recover it.

The ‘Cats couldn’t turn the following drive into points though as the offense moved backwards before sending Alex McPherson out to try a 57-yard field goal. His kick had the distance but was pushed wide right.

Fort Payne then forced a punt on defense, but fumbled the ball at their own 18 on their next offensive snap.

The Wildcats’ defense didn’t fold though and came up with another fourth-down stop to keep the lead intact.

The turnovers then kept coming as Fort Payne fumbled away their next snap on a botched handoff, but they got the ball right back when Daki Goodman scooped up a Mae Jemison fumble a play later.

Fort Payne then secured the ball long enough to march 89 yards on nine plays. The fourth play of that drive saw Carter Pinholster break several tackles on a 43-yard gallop down the left sideline. Shaddix added runs of 13, 12 and nine before Darwin Camp scored from two yards out. McPherson’s PAT made the score 14-0 with 1:23 left in the half.

Mae Jemison wouldn’t go scoreless in the half though as their following drive ended with a 51-yard score by quarterback Daymond Eason. It was Eason’s first of four touchdowns in the game and he led the Jaguars with 268 yards rushing.

The Jags’ PAT was blocked by Cam Thomas. Both offenses then traded quick interceptions, with Fort Payne’s coming from Dylan Ledford, before halftime.

The Wildcats started the second half fast with a fake punt that fooled the Jaguars’ and led to a 48-yard score by Shaddix.

Fort Payne’s defense then forced a 3-and-out before their special teams unit blocked Mae Jemison’s punt near the goal line. Wildcat sophomore Darrell Prater grabbed the loose ball and walked into the end zone for a quick score that put the Wildcats up 28-6 with 5:55 to go in the third.

The post-touchdown celebration didn’t last for long though as Mae Jemison’s next play started their comeback when Eason broke an 80-yard touchdown run up the middle. The Jags’ went for two and converted to cut the lead to 28-14.

Fort Payne’s next drive ended in a McPherson punt that was downed at the 1-yard line, but the Jags powered through with a 99-yard drive that ended on a 56-yard score by Eason. Another 2-point conversion by the Jags made the score 28-22 with 11:22 left to play.

Shaddix led the Wildcat offense into Mae Jemison territory on their next drive before the ‘Cats sent out McPherson for a 56-yard field goal attempt. This time, McPherson drilled it through the uprights to make the score 31-22 with 8:14 left in the fourth.

Three plays later, Mae Jemison ripped off a 53-yard run and later scored on a 4-yard keeper from Eason. The Jags went for two and converted once more to cut the lead to one at 31-30 with 4:52 left to play.

Fort Payne started their next drive at their own 20 and moved the chains once before facing third-and-15. Shaddix took a bootleg around right end for the first and drew a facemask penalty, which eventually allowed the Wildcats to sit on the ball and drain out the final seconds on the clock.

Shaddix led the Wildcats with 184 yards and a score on 23 carries. Pinholster racked up 73 yards on nine handoffs and Love added 27 yards on six carries.

On defense, Robbie Graham and Goodman led the ‘Cats with seven stops and a fumble recovery each.

The Wildcats will take next week off before traveling to face Etowah on Sept. 27.

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