Pelham pounded in Wildcat City

Tuscaloosa County ended Pelham’s season in convincing fashion Friday, winning its playoff opener, 35-8, over the Panthers.

The Wildcats (11-0), ranked No. 2 in Class 6A, outscored Pelham 21-0 in the fourth quarter.

Pelham’s defense floundered at times this season, but held down the Wildcats’ spread offense most of the game. Pelham head coach Brett Burnett said he liked his team’s chances trailing 14-8 to the lone Alabama team ranked in USA Today’s Super 25 (No. 25) after three quarters.

“We were right there where we wanted to be,” Burnett said. “You can’t keep putting your defense out there without scoring points. Eight points is not going to beat too many people.”

Pelham senior Shawn Lynch scored a 44-yard touchdown on a dazzling run after a catch in the third quarter, weaving from the left sideline to the right corner of the end zone. Lynch caught a pass for a two-point conversion and Pelham trailed 14-8. The Panthers got the ball back and drove into Wildcats territory before punting the ball to Tuscaloosa County with :32 left in the third quarter.

Pelham regained possession trailing 28-8. After Tuscaloosa County senior Caleb Lewis caught a 12-yard touchdown pass, his second of the game, Corey Thomas fumbled a short kickoff and Tanner Goode recovered for the Wildcats. Jerren Lewis plowed into the end zone five plays later and Tuscaloosa County led by 20 with 7:46 left.

The Panthers held possession for 2:04 in the fourth quarter, including the final :39.

“Defensively we played at times about as good as we can play,” Burnett said. “We couldn’t get anything going consistently offensively. Not getting points up when we had opportunities really hurt us.”

A large cloth banner strung across a tunnel under the home bleachers read, “There is no pity in Wildcat City,” and the Wildcats embodied that mantra against a visibly dejected Panthers team. After a brief Pelham drive, Tuscaloosa County ran the ball 12 straight times, and quarterback Brett Booth scampered six yards for the game’s final touchdown with :39 left.

Booth ran 10 times for 119 yards in the second half. Pelham’s blitz reached Booth several times — and Booth escaped more often than not. He also completed 16-of-26 passes for 198 yards and three touchdowns.

“Their quarterback played great. He made us miss. I don’t know how many times we had him pinned back there and he just made big play after big play. I thought he was a real difference in the ballgame,” Burnett said. “Their team did a great job. Unfortunately we just couldn’t pull it out. Just couldn’t close the deal when we had to.”

Lynch and senior Alvin Hines closed their careers in style for Pelham. Lynch caught four passes for 77 yards and a touchdown. Hines tracked down a Tuscaloosa County player twice from behind to prevent touchdowns, keeping the game close through three quarters. Both were freshman when Burnett became head football coach at Pelham.

Quarterback Tripp Martin and running back Ryan Williams will form a core group of returnees on offense along with linebacker Nigel Terrell and defensive end Carrington Lewis on defense. All four will be seniors next year.

After a one-year hiatus from 6A Region 6, Pelham (6-5) made the playoffs without a signature win. They lost to every high-ranked opponent, including the three teams that finished ahead of them in Region 6 and Tuscaloosa County in the first round of the playoffs. Burnett said several times his team acted overwhelmed at the beginning of those games. He talked with his team for about five minutes in the locker room after Friday’s loss, harping on the attitude change he wants next year.

“I told them the main thing is we’ve got to take initiative. For us to be the type of program we want to get to, we’ve got to know that we can compete with people like this,” Burnett said. “We’ve got to have no doubt in our mind that we can go out and compete with these good football teams. That’s the main thing we’ve got to take from this year.”

Tuscaloosa County advances to play Mountain Brook, which beat Pelham 33-19 earlier this season.