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September 5, 2013

HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL: Hornets headed for the Hill

Athens will try to find offensive success against stingy Panther defense

Athens — In many sports, knockout punches — think boxing matches and baseball games, for example — happen in the blink of an eye.

The Athens Hornets delivered a knockout punch last week, however, that lasted seven minutes and twenty-four seconds long.  

With the game on the line during their season-opening 31-25 win over the Kaufman Lions, the Hornets used their multi-headed running attack to play a tedious game of keep-away and run out the clock.

The 16-play drive — consisting entirely of running plays —  was the team’s longest since Aug. 26, 2011, when the Hornets matched the feat on a scoring march against Fort Worth Nolan. Last week’s drive included five third-down conversions, three of which came on the Hornets’ end of the field.

The Hornets will look to dictate the pace again this week when they hit the road for the first time to face the Spring Hill Panthers in a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.

Exactly what pace the Hornets will try to set will depend on Spring Hill, said  Athens head coach Paul Essary, who is 3-0 against the Panthers in his career here.

“We don’t go into a game saying, ‘The fullback is going to carry the ball so many times,’” said Essary, who won his 25th game at Athens last week. “You take what the defense is giving you. But we’ve got any number of guys, including our quarterback, who could get touches. So if you stop one, you’ve got some others to contend with.”

Fifty-eight of the Hornets’ 70 offensive snaps against Kaufman resulted in running plays, with Athens gaining 289 yards, or slightly less than 4.9 yards per carry. (they averaged 4.5 yards per carry on their final, clock-draining drive). Sophomore Logan Fuller turned in a 117-yard performance on a team-high 26 carries, while senior quarterback Anthony Sanders compiled 82 yards on 13 carries. Junior Devin Hall finished with 64 yards on 11 carries. Sophomore Travon Fuller and junior Ladarius Jordan also got touches.

Those figures present an interesting storyline for a game Friday that will pit all that offensive talent against a Spring Hill defense that scored twice last week and forced six fumbles.

Spring Hill head coach Mark Sartain, who knows a thing or two about football in Henderson County, said he’s still looking for much more improvement from his team but pleased with what he’s seen so far in his first season at the school.

“Our game Friday night was proof of that old theory that playing hard overcomes a multitude of sins,” Sartain said. “We didn’t, by any means, play a perfect game — we did some good things, don’t get me wrong — but the kids played extremely hard.”

Sartain, who in the summer became Spring Hill’s third head coach in four seasons, was an Athens assistant coach in the early 1980s and went on to lead the programs at Eustace and Cross Roads.

He also served two coaching stints at Trinity Valley Community College — a fact which led him to point out that he’s coached nearly half his career with Bruce Field in Athens serving as his home field.

But this Friday night, the Hornets will be on Sartain’s home turf and hoping to put a damper on the Panthers’ homecoming festivities.

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