Wildcats shock 6A Panthers

Season openers are supposed to be against “cupcake” teams that get your team a win to start the season on a high note, right?

Well, that isn’t the way the Shelby County Wildcats saw it — as they opened up with one of the most potent offenses they may see all season in the Pell City Panthers.

The Wildcats won the cat fight, 29-20, stunning the 6A Panthers in a home opener to remember.

After a short 5-and-out series for the Panthers, the Wildcats took to the field for their first offensive possession at their own 33-yard line.

Shelby County quickly went to work by reeling off an 11-play, 67-yard scoring drive, capped off by a Tae Lewis 4-yard touchdown bolt.

The point-after failed, and the Wildcats were out to an early 6-0 lead midway through the first.

Strong play from the Wildcat defense carried into the second quarter, as the team held the Panthers to another dismal offensive series and a punt from the Pell City 13 yard line.

It was a punt that netted a mere 19 yards, putting the Wildcats right at the door again.

Facing fourth down and goal from the 17-yard line, Braten Dill threw a dart to receiver Dustin Wood for the score. Dill then hit Lewis in the end zone for the two point conversion to put Shelby County out in front, 14-0.

With 7:02 remaining before intermission, the Panthers had to intervene with something to keep the game within reach as the game clock ticked away. That they did.

Starting from their own 43-yard line, Pell City quarterback Elliot Wilson led his offense on a 13-play drive that was highlighted by a critical fourth down and goal conversion by Lenny Harrell as he muscled in from six yards out. Kegan Gaither added the PAT for the Panthers, who trailed 14-7.

Just when the momentum started to swing, Lewis struck again — quickly.

First and ten from their 47-yard line, Dill hit Lewis in stride down the sideline for a 53-yard touchdown toss. Twelve ticks off the game clock, the Wildcats were back in the driver’s seat, 21-7, going into the half.

The blue collar play of the Shelby County defense had the spread attack of the Panthers hovering at 44 yards of total offense for the first half.

To kick off the third quarter, Darion Sutton led the way for the Wildcats rolling up an 85-yard scoring drive that ended when Dill called his own number on a quarterback keeper from the Panther nine yard line. Dill found Lewis for their second two point conversion of the night to put Shelby County out to a demanding 29-7 lead midway through the third quarter.

Wood would pick off a Wilson pass that would give the Wildcats the ball yet again, but after a Sutton fumble on the first play of the series, the Panthers were slowly clawing their way back into the game.

Two plays later, Wilson hit receiver Cody Smith on a screen pass to go in for the score. With three minutes remaining in the third, Pell City trailed, 29-14.

Taking advantage of the careless play of the Wildcats in the fourth quarter, the Panthers marched down the field quickly for another score compliments of a 2-yard touchdown run from Wilson. The PAT failed to convert, but in the blink of an eye, the Panthers were only down nine, 29-20.

The Wildcat defense held true as they diverted one last attempt by the Panthers as the clock trickled down.

A Kevin McNorton interception closed the book on a remarkable Wildcat win and head coach Ryan Herring knew his team did something special.

“I am most proud to be their coach and just astounded as to what our kids were able to do tonight,” Herring said. “We just beat a good 6A football team with kids that played on offense, defense and special teams all night. I just can’t say enough about their effort and heart. This is one of the biggest wins I have ever been a part of.”

Aside from the penalties, SCHS did all they need to do to seal a win versus the Panthers.

Dill finished 12 for 22 on the night with 200 yards through the air, two touchdown tosses, and a rushing touchdown. Sutton was a workhorse with 133 yards on the ground while Lewis added 42-yards rushing and 90-receiving, totaling an impressive 387 of total offense for the Wildcats.

A stingy Wildcat defense held the Panthers to a simple 132 yards of total offense.

“Going into the game we knew we had to control the ball and limit mistakes in order to win,” Herring said. “I knew if we could control the ball and keep their offense off the field, I thought we had a chance. We kept them from making the big play tonight and that has to do with the way our kids played.”

SCHS will use this win to catapult them into next week when region rival Briarwood rolls into town for a Region 4 battle.