FNL: Gritty ‘Cats move to round 2

NORTHPORT, Ala. – Few things are more welcome on a 38-degree November high school playoff night than a warm bathroom at half time. That bathroom was much more welcome Friday night than the Tuscaloosa County High Wildcats were to the visiting Pelham Panthers.


Though the pesky Panthers cut the margin to 14-8 with 5:49 left in the third quarter, the second-ranked Wildcats scored the game's final 21 unanswered points to put away Pelham, 35-8.

The Wildcats got two touchdowns from Brett Booth and Caleb Lewis to go with gutsy performances from Caleb Lewis and Damian Minor in the win.

TCHS (11-0) will host Mountain Brook next week in round two, and all concerned remember the Spartans for putting the Wildcats out of last year's playoffs in round two.

Pelham finished the season 6-5.

To the categories:

TOP PROSPECT: Pelham senior safety Alvin Hines had to make a lot of tackles Friday, and a few of them were touchdown saving. Hines plays centerfield as well as anyone not named Dre Kirkpatrick.

"Alvin's had a really good year for us, and he's a leader defensively for us," said Panthers coach Brett Burnett. "He's gotten a lot better as the year's progressed, and I think he's gotten a lot more comfortable with the guys around him. He's made some big plays for us here in the last few weeks."

"He's an outstanding player," said former Alabama defensive back Robert Higginbotham, the head coach at Tuscaloosa County . "If the ball gets past the line of scrimmage, he's going to be in on the tackle, and anytime they throw the battle in his area, he's around it."

SOLID SENIORS: Fighting off a nagging injury, Caleb Lewis just kept going back in the game. Pelham probably wishes he had stayed on the sidelines.

Lewis a wide out on offense, caught touchdown passes from Tide baseball commitment Brett Booth of 12 and 9 yards. He also played well at both outside linebacker and defensive end when needed. Lewis is 6-2, 211.

"He's just a big, physical kid that's also very athletic," Burnett said.

"Caleb's had an outstanding year," Higginbotham said. "In the day and time, he's one of the few kids that play both ways. He's playing pretty much all the snaps on offense, and about half the snaps on defense. He's kind of our "Iron Man," in that he has double duty."

At 6-6, 202, Walter Grayson is known mainly as a power forward on the TCHS hoops team. Well, you can add solid wide receiver to that list. He hauled in a 42-yard aerial from Booth to set up County High's second TD.

JUNIORS TO WATCH: Remember former Alabama O-line recruit Johnnie Farms? Or, if you want to go back a bit further, remember ex-Bama guard Marico Portis? Or further back, Trent Patterson, he of "Biggest Loser" fame? Well, they have a clone at Tuscaloosa County in 6-1, 320-pound Andre Lucius. Andre may need to grow taller to be an SEC prospect, but hey, South Carolina will sign Farms.

"Andre is one of best. He's the one that opens up those holes for the running backs," Higginbotham said.

Explosive County High running back/ wide receiver Minor (5-10, 168) hurt his leg early on, but hobbled back on the field with the game on the line and ripped off several chain-moving runs. He has good hands and is a dangerous kick returner.

Pelham running back Ryan Williams (5-9, 160) gave the 'Cats fits at times. So did 6-3, 185-pound linebacker Nigel Terrell.

SUPER SOPHS:Look out for these Wildcats, because "Coach Higg" rarely starts sophomores. Wide receiver/kick returner Danny Gaines (6-0, 165) caught a 37-yard TD down the middle from Booth to open the scoring with Hines nowhere to be found on the play. After Minor got hurt, Gaines stepped in on kick/punt returns, and may have broken a kick return had he not tripped over a fallen teammate. This guy is explosive.

The same could be said about cornerback Derek Slaughter (5-8, 140) who made plays all over the field.

Speaking of ex-Tide players, Rocky Colburn's son Riley is starting at safety for the Wildcats. He patrols the deep third and comes up well on the run. Kinda like dad did.

HOW ‘BOUT THEM BURGERS: The burgers were OK. Thing was, I also felt the need to sample the Polish sausage. Talk about spicy! One bite in, I knew this would be a Prevacid night. Ah, middle age.

NEXT: After checking out No. 2 Tuscaloosa County, why not a trip to Prattville to see the No. 1 Lions take on top junior athlete DeMarcus Milliner and the upset-minded Mustangs of Stanhope Elmore? One problem… Opelika beat the Mustangs.

So, FNL will check out Justin (son of Sam) Shade and Caleb (you know his kin) Castille and the Briarwood Lions as they visit big Brandon Moore and the Carver Wolverines at Cramton Bowl in ‘da Gump. Unbeaten Carver will be heavily favored.

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