They left Friday’s game in opposite positions — the Wildcats bounced back from a difficult loss to Hoover by rolling up 482 yards in a 34-14 win over the Panthers.
“For us, it was all about finishing the season,” said Tuscaloosa County head coach Lee Gibson. “We talked about playing four quarters all season.
“Last week (in a 28-10 loss to Hoover) we played well for three quarters. We talked about playing all four quarters tonight.”
Pell City (6-4) managed 265 yards of offense against the state’s best defense, but could not stop the Wildcats (8-2), who gained 279 yards rushing and 203 yards passing.
“We just got whipped up front,” said Pell City head coach David Shores. “They came off the ball and basically did what they wanted to. It’s the first time since Clay-Chalkville (in Week 4) that’s happened.”
The Wildcats led 10-0 at halftime, but went to work quickly with a 51-yard touchdown march. Facing fourth-and-2 at the Panther 41, Tuscaloosa County got a 26-yard run from junior Ja’Marion Sanders on a fake punt. One play later, senior Tyler Gates found senior Tylan Perry in the end zone, making the score 17-7.
“This was the best we’ve played offensively tonight,” Gibson said. “We try to be balanced, and we worked hard on that this week.”
Pell City answered quickly, driving 82 yards for its first points. Quarterback Austin Martin scored from a yard out, and junior Ryan Curran’s extra point made it 17-7.
“My hat’s off to our offense tonight,” Shores said. “The way we moved the ball against that defense, that was big.”
The Wildcats responded with three runs that netted 81 yards. Perry scored from 11 yards out, and the score was 24-7.
Ira Burch was the engine that drove Pell City’s offense most of the night. The junior carried the ball 19 times for 154 yards, and caught three passes for 54 yards. He scored from 42 yards out on the first play of the fourth quarter to narrow the Wildcat lead to 24-14.
“Every week Ira comes to play,” Shores said. “He’s like a machine. He plays four quarters and he never quits.”
Pell City finished with 265 yards as a team.
“(Burch) is a heck of a ball player,” Gibson said. “They’ve (Pell City) scored points all year against everybody. That really says something about their football team.”
The Wildcats were paced by Perry, who finished with 14 carries for 90 yards and three receptions for 34 yards. Sophomore Derrick Burns finished with 12 carries for 139 yards and a score, while Gates completed 11-of-19 passes for 203 yards and two touchdowns.
After a field goal by senior Emiliano Ramos, the Wildcats held Pell City on downs. Burns carried the ball in from six yards out to complete the scoring.
The Panthers moved the ball on their first two drives of the game, driving inside the Tuscaloosa County 30-yard line both times. They were forced to punt on the first drive after a sack, and the second ended with a Burch fumble at the Wildcat 18.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats scored on their first two possessions. The first ended with a Ramos field goal, and the second when Gates found junior Allen Cooks down the right sideline for a 59-yard touchdown. The score at halftime stood 10-0 in favor of the visitors.
Both teams will host playoff games next week. Tuscaloosa County will play host to Gardendale, while Austin comes to Pell City.
“They (Austin) won a huge game last night against Hartselle,” Shores said. “We’ve got to turn our team around and get our confidence back.”
Contact Will Heath at firstname.lastname@example.org.