Tough defense

Pell City's defense forced five turnovers last week against Calera.

Pell City head coach Wayne Lee didn’t have to do anything extra to get his team up for this week’s game against archrival Oxford.

The Panthers will travel 30 minutes east on Interstate 20 looking to snap a five-game losing streak against the No. 2-ranked Yellow Jackets.

“We have to have everybody playing well,” Lee said. “We need everybody to step up, be ready and bring their ‘A’ game out there. Hopefully, they will. I don’t understand why they wouldn’t. If we go out there and play (well), you never know what could happen.”

The Panthers (2-0) will open Class 6A, Region 6 play with intentions of staying undefeated.

Last week, Pell City used a strong defensive performance to defeat Calera 28-7. The Panthers’ turnover belt was in heavy rotation as they forced five turnovers against the Eagles. Sophomore Carson Walker returned a blocked field goal 90 yards for touchdown, added an interception and scooped up an errant field goal snap to kill another Eagles’ scoring chance.

“We didn’t get any turnovers in the first week; we had a lot of penalties,” Lee said.  “We went back and really went to work on that. We talked about getting turnovers and forcing turnovers.  

“The first one, they basically took the ball down the field, and we made a stop. We blocked a field goal and we took it back for a touchdown. That’s huge. We are going to have to keep (forcing turnovers) Friday night.”

Unlike the opening game of the season, Pell City did most of its scoring in the first quarter against Calera. The Panthers wanted until late to score against Fort Payne in Week Zero, but last week, they scored 21 of their 28 points in the opening stanza.  

Senior running back Darius Garrett rushed for 112 yards and a pair of touchdowns last week. For the season, he has 203 yards and three scores rushing.  

Lee said he has been pleased with the improvement he has seen week-to-week offensively.

“They have really come a long way this year,” Lee said. “They have done a good job. Darius (Garrett) has done a good job of running the ball. (Quarterback) Mitchell (Gossett) keeps getting better with the receivers; the more they work, the better they get.”

The Panthers will be tested in every phase of the game against the Yellow Jackets.

Oxford (2-0) cruised past 7A opponent Gadsden City 35-6 last week. The Yellow Jackets have been dominant in their first two games of 2018. They shut out Munford in Week Zero.

“Obviously, this is the best team that we have played so far,” Lee said. “They have an outstanding defense. ... They are solid everywhere on defense; there are no leaks or holes, no real places to attack them.

“The same thing on offense. The (Trey) Higgins kid is doing a good job of throwing it around. They throw it around more than they have in the past. Just about the time you think that they are going to do that, they bring in two tight ends and run downhill on you. It is the same old thing at Oxford. “

Taking advantage of opportunities on both sides of the ball will be key for the Panthers if they are going to spoil Oxford’s homecoming.

“We have to finish plays, we are still missing tackles,” Lee said. “On offense, we didn’t quite have the killer instincts that we were looking for (last week). Finishing plays and finishing drives. We have to capitalize when we have the opportunity. I think that is really the key to the game right there if we are going to make a run at them.”