‘Cats overcome first round challenge

COLUMBIANA – Shelby County was taught a lesson Friday night, a lesson it overcame in the second half to pull out a 41-31 victory against Chilton County and improve to 11-0.

“We just didn’t come into the game all hyped up like we should be. Playoffs is a big deal, either you advance or you go home. I’m not sure we really understood that,” junior Shelby County quarterback Braten Dill said.

The Wildcats came out flat, allowing an opening series drive by the Chilton County Tigers (3-8) and a 25-yard touchdown run by quarterback Taylor Hughes to fall behind 7-0. It was only the second time this year that Shelby County had not scored first.

After a Shelby County three-and-out, the Wildcat defense held the Tigers to force a 33-yard field goal, which was missed wide left, giving the ’Cats the ball on their own 20.

From there, fullback Darion Sutton began to chip away at the Tiger defense, rushing for 51 yards on five carries as part of an 80-yard, seven-play scoring drive. Sutton, who collected 184 yards on the ground in the game, capped the drive with a 25-yard run to even the score to start the second half. Kevin McNorton tied it, 7-7, with the point-after kick.

McNorton picked off a pass on the ensuing possession but the Cats were unable to convert on fourth down. The Tigers answered with a 31-yard field goal to regain the lead, 10-7.

Dill answered with a 64-yad touchdown run, followed by 24-yard touchdown catch bobbled and reeled in by Chilton County receiver Darnell Spear with 42 seconds left in the half. Shelby County trailed, 17-14, at the break.

Shelby County head coach Ryan Herring attempted to fire up his guys at halftime after being slow to start early in the game.

“We’ve got to make up our mind, do we want to win or do we want to be 10-1 and be the laughing stock of the state,” Herring asked his team.

The Wildcats received the ball to start the second half, but Demonte Ford muffed the kickoff, giving the ball to Chilton at the Wildcat 31. Hughes found Kendrick Woods on a 31-yard pass to take a 10-point lead, 24-14 — the largest deficit Shelby County has faced all season.

But that is when the Wildcats began to come to life.

“All the seniors realized this could be our last game, so we went out there and stuck together,” Damian Trice said.

Dill called his number for a second touchdown run, this time from 11 yards out, to cap a 75-yard drive and pull Shelby County within four, 24-20. McNorton missed the extra point.

The defensive line came alive from then on, applying pressure on Hughes the rest of the night.

Tae Lewis came of the line untouched and dropped Hughes for a sack, followed by a delay of game penalty that put the Tigers on their own 33 facing a fourth-and-23.

Lewis then helped the Wildcats respond on offense, setting up a Sutton touchdown with a 56-yard run to the Tiger 7. Sutton punched the ball in on the next play to take the lead, 27-24.

“We made our DBs struggle the whole game, but our defensive line stepped it up in the second half and gave him a lot of pressure,” Trice said.

The sacks continued to roll in, as Trice and the Wildcats held the Tigers and forced a bad punt that went only five yards.

Lewis extended the lead moments later on a 9-yard touchdown run, 34-24. He finished the night with two TDs and 148 yards.

Chilton quickly answered, but so did Shelby County with a 65-yard run by Lewis.

Trice and Sutton provided back-to-back pressure on Hughes to force incomplete passes on third and fourth down on the ensuing drive, giving the ball back to Shelby to run out the clock.

“The defense in the second half stepped it up and gave us the ball back. That’s was the key,” Dill said.

While the offense was clicking all night, racking up 449 yards on the ground, Herring said the defense needs some work before hosting Demopolis in the second round next Friday.

“We never really stopped them totally. Our offense picked us up tonight,” Herring said. “Demopolis is going to be athletic. They can run. Everybody they have can run. We’ve got a lot of improving to do.”

After the game, sheets were hung from the side of the school reading “11-0.” In the locker room the seniors had a chance to shave another coach’s head. After buzzing Herring following the Week 10 shutout of Jemison, defensive coordinator John Watkins lost his hair Friday on a deal with the team.