During Fort Payne’s bye week, the primary point of emphasis was placed on finding consistency.
With a week dedicated to recovery and correcting mistakes, the Wildcats return to regular-season play by visiting the Etowah Blue Devils at Jim Glover Field in Attalla at 7 p.m. Friday.
Fort Payne entered its bye week after earning its first win of the season, 27-14, against Class 6A, Region 7 foe Springville on Sept. 10., improving to 1-3 overall and 1-1 in region play.
Despite the inconsistencies, Fort Payne head coach Chris Elmore said he saw spurts of great play from his team, both offensively and defensively, through the first four games.
“We have to eliminate the big play on defense and also have to tackle more consistently,” Elmore said. “On offense, we have to quit turning the ball over and we have to completely eliminate all of our pre-snap penalties (false starts, etc.).”
Elmore said the Wildcats have been placed in third-and-long situations 31 times through the first four contests, an excessive amount of times, that has prevented some offensive success.
Along with the down and distance problems, Elmore said penalties were often the reason for those third-and-long struggles.
“We also have to get better in our passing game on offense,” Elmore said. “But, at the same time, we must be able to defend the 1-on-1 deep ball more effectively on defense. We have tried to work hard on all of these things during the bye week.”
Etowah, a 4A program from Region 6, has won three straight games after opening the season with a 34-0 loss at Gadsden City.
Since the loss to the 7A power, the Blue Devils have notched victories against Oneonta (33-0), Fultondale (49-22) and, most recently, Ashville (28-0).
Elmore said Blue Devils quarterback Trace Thompson is the key to his team’s offensive success. Thompson was a starter when Etowah appeared in the 4A state semifinal round last year.
Three of Thompson’s primary receiving weapons from last season graduated and advanced to Division I colleges. However, Thompson still has a multitude of offensive options, including Omareon Finch, the younger brother of the graduated Ollie Finch.
“Finch is a dynamic receiver just like his brother was and they do a good job of getting the football to him,” Elmore said. “Etowah also has a big offensive line that does a good job of being physical at the point of attack.”
Elmore said Briggs Freeman seems to be Etowah’s primary option at running back so far this season.
On the defensive side for Etowah, Jacob Sanford returns on the defensive line and is a standout player, as he was last season.
“Our players commented last year that (Sanford) was one of the smartest players we faced,” Elmore said. “We will have to do a good job of blocking him all night or he will create problems in our run and pass game.”
Another standout defensive threat the Wildcats will have eyes on includes linebacker Tyler Dobbs, a player Elmore said “always seems to be around the ball.”
According to the Alabama High School Football Historical Society’s website, Etowah leads the all-time series 25-21. Fort Payne won 35-21 in last year’s matchup, ending a five-game losing streak in the series.