Defensive pressure key in Fort Payne’s win vs. Carver

Fort Payne senior Kevin Hightower (20) defends a pass against Carver-Birmingham sophomore Ca'Marion McKinney during the first half in Fort Payne last Friday night.

FORT PAYNE — Fort Payne’s defense harassed Carver-Birmingham’s backfield throughout the night.

Wildcats coach Chris Elmore knew it would take that kind of defensive effort to stave off Carver’s passing threat.

“We felt like if (the Rams) could sit back there and throw, it would give us trouble, so we tried to get pressure on them as much as we could. I thought we did a good job of that most of the night,” Elmore said after Fort Payne’s 39-24 victory last Friday night.

When given time, Rams quarterback Chappelle Wade showed an ability to make the short, intermediate and deep throws to his receivers. But the Wildcats’ defense forced Wade and the Rams to often work from behind the chains.

Fort Payne stopped running back Lawrence Washington for a 1-yard loss midway through the first quarter, before Kevin Hightower defended a pass on second down, leading the Rams to punt on fourth-and-23.

Even when the Wildcats made mistakes that allowed Carver to extend drives or receive better field position, big defensive plays were the answer. 

Fort Payne drew a personal foul penalty for roughing the punter in the first quarter and the Rams’ drive continued. Matthew Shaddix sacked Wade on the ensuing third down and forced another punt.

When Carver recovered a Fort Payne fumble on a punt return, the Wildcats’ secondary defended Wade’s throws and picked up a turnover on downs.

Tyler Newton sacked Wade for a 10-yard loss on third down in the third after Fort Payne was well in control at 33-0.

“We did a lot of good things. We just have to clean up some penalties,” Elmore said. “We had some penalties at inopportune times and that has to get better before we move forward.”

Pinholster’s return: Carter Pinholster gave the Wildcats a booming start, returning the game’s opening kickoff 99 yards along the right sideline for a touchdown.

“I guess it’s like starting a baseball game with a home run; it gives everybody a shot in the arm,” Elmore said. “A great job by Carter, a great job by our return team. We’ve been close to breaking one all year and that was one we finally broke. A big play, a good way to start the game.”

McPherson’s leg: Fort Payne’s special teams got another strong performance from kicker Alex McPherson. He made all three extra-point kick attempts and added field goals of 43 and 32 yards. 

“He’s a complete weapon. He changes the game for us every Friday night,” Elmore said.

Special appearances: Two seniors who have been out for the season with injuries made appearances for the Wildcats at the end of the game. Donald Winchester and Micah Simpson came on the field for the game’s final snap from victory formation.

“We just wanted to get them in for the victory play so they could say they played their senior year,” Elmore said.

Winchester was the Wildcats’ starting running back and the team’s leading rusher in 2018; he tore his ACL in July. Simpson, a wide receiver, tore his labrum in June.

Even with a deep run this postseason, Elmore said it’s unlikely Winchester will play, as his recovery continues.

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