Pelham defends turf against Wetumpka

Score one for the Birmingham area.

Pelham did Region 6 proud in a game laced with competitive testosterone and geographical pride, beating Wetumpka 30-16 behind a forceful second half effort.

For the second week in a row, Pelham’s defense swiped the football away just as head coach Brett Burnett’s face turned a deeper shade of red.

The Indians seemed poised to take a two-score lead in the third quarter when Pelham sophomore Derek Slaughter knocked the ball loose from Dontice Sanders, triggering a wellspring of emotion from Panther fans in attendance that carried over to the field. Pelham (6-2) scored touchdowns on its next two possessions and forced three second-half turnovers.

“They’re from down south and we’re from up here in the north. It was a battle of two regions and the kids wanted it,” Burnett said. “The other team turned the ball over a bunch and kept them out of the end zone some which was huge tonight. We settled in defensively and offensively in the second half and were able to come out and play a lot better.”

The Indians led 16-9 after a sloppy first half. Pelham squandered away an opportunity after Wetumpka’s long snapper overshot the punter, setting the Panthers up at Wetumpka’s 5-yard line. Ryan Williams fumbled on the next play. The Indians recovered at the 1 and stormed 99 yards to close the second quarter with a touchdown.

Wetumpka (6-2) controlled an emotional first half but fell apart after Sanders’ fumble as the Panthers were able to withstand the Indians’ flapping mouths. After forcing a three-and-out on Pelham’s first possession, defensive tackle Marquiz Buycks lingered near the Panthers’ sideline, screaming and bobbing his head. That theme continued through the first three quarters.

“They’re a very, very competitive group of guys, I’ll give them that,” Alvin Hines said. “There was a lot of talking going on and barking. It got really competitive, really nasty out there, but that’s the way football is, and that’s why you love to play it.”

Hines led the team with 11 tackles and said he and his teammates will have to continue overwhelming teams with a deluge of turnovers if they’re going to advance in the playoffs. Temperatures swooned to the low 50s during the game, spawning a vapor cloud that reduced visibility. The weather may deteriorate further during the playoffs in November.

“Sometimes we come out flat and teams start driving on us, but we kick it back into that gear and we start coming up with big plays,” Hines said. “Going into the playoffs, the weather’s going to start getting cold and nasty and the scores are going to start dropping. It’s going to start becoming a defensive game. Red zone stops are going to be great in the playoffs.”

Pelham narrowly avoided a red zone turnover themselves. Tied at 16, Tripp Martin threw a fade to Shawn Lynch into double coverage in the end zone. Lynch and a Wetumpka defender both grabbed the ball, but it appeared the defensive player touched down with possession. Lynch wrestled the ball free by the time they rolled to the field in a twisted heap, and the referees gave him a 13-yard touchdown and Pelham a 23-16 lead.

“I was thinking Tripp was going to throw it a little further than that, but he threw it to where I could make a play on it. He was talking it to me the whole way. I don’t know what he was saying, but I just jumped up and tried to make a play for my team,” Lynch said. “I jumped and it fell into my hands and I snatched it, but he snatched it back. We fell on the ground and we both had possession and I was just trying to pull it away. I guess offense rules on possession on that.”

Lynch caught seven passes for 79 yards and two touchdowns.

Pelham added a fourth-quarter touchdown after a bizarre fake punt by the Indians. Facing fourth-and-10 from their own 26, Wetumpka snapped it to Buycks near the line of scrimmage and he plunged forward for a 1-yard gain.

Lost in what Lynch and Barnett called one of Pelham’s best halves of the season was the fact that Wetumpka rushed for 220 yards, including 159 by Sanders, replicating a troubling theme for the Panthers.

“Defensively, we’ve got to be able to stop the run. We’re still struggling at times stopping the run and we’ve got to get better. We’ve said it all year and we’ve got to continue to get better stopping the dadgum run,” Burnett said.

Martin threw for 178 yards and two touchdowns to lead Pelham’s offense.

Pelham travels to region-champion Hoover (7-1, 7-0) next Friday. The Panthers, who have already clinched a spot in the Class 6A playoffs, will have a chance to finish third in the region with a win at Hoover.