Jayson Larson/Special to the Review
The Athens Review
The Athens Hornets, goal-oriented as they are, can check off one of the big items on their 2013 “to-do” list.
The Hornets (8-0, 3-0 in District 15-3A) clinched a playoff spot with a 56-14 win over the Mabank Panthers on Homecoming Night Friday at Bruce Field. Athens head coach Paul Essary has now led the Hornets – who endured one of the state's longest losing streaks less than a decade ago – to the postseason in four of his five seasons.
Prior to this season, the Hornets had never started a season better than 6-0. Now Essary's club is just three wins away from tying the school-record for wins in a single season (11) set during 2010's run to a Class 3A regional final.
“I'm proud of the guys for coming out focused with all the distractions homecoming can bring,” said Essary, who watched his team jump out to leads of 21-0 by the end of the first quarter and 42-7 by halftime. “The kids wanted to show our alumni we've got a great football team. And it's great to clinch a playoff spot, but that's just our first goal.”
Speaking of records, Athens sophomore Logan Fuller has his sights on at least two. Fuller ran 19 times for 183 yards and scored three touchdowns. He has now rushed for 985 yards and 17 touchdowns, leaving him 308 yards shy of Kenneth Sessions' record for most rushing yards in a season (1,293) set in 1976 and seven touchdowns short of tying Kendall Sanders' single-season touchdown record, 24, set in 2010.
One of Fuller's backfield mates, Ladarius Jordan, turned in 87 yards and three scores of his own, while Devin Hall pitched in 64 yards on the ground. Travon Fuller, yet another of the Hornets' sensational sophomores, had a huge night, as well. He intercepted Mabank quarterback Cody Thompson twice, doubling his team-leading total for the season. Fuller also returned the opening kickoff of the second half 85 yards for a touchdown, and a punt return for another score in the second half was called back due to a penalty.
Senior linebacker K.J. Cumby had the Hornets' other interception to go along with a fumble recovery. The Hornets scored 14 points off Mabank turnovers.
“It feels amazing being 8-0 and clinching a spot in the playoffs,” Cumby said. “We came out here and gave it everything we've got. We're not going to stop until (we're 10-0).”
Mabank moved the football as well as any team has against Athens all season, but the Panthers – playing without starting running back Clay Gaddis, who was injured in last week's win over Brownsboro – struggled to get into the end zone. The Panthers scored just twice – on Garrett Holcomb's 14-yard run late in the second quarter, and for the last time on a seven-yard run by Dylan Schneider with a little more than seven minutes to go in the third.
In addition to their solid defensive effort, the Hornets put behind them what had been a sloppy two-week stretch of mistakes. After losing eight fumbles over the previous two games, they had no turnovers Friday night. And for what it's worth, senior quarterback Anthony Sanders — who threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Chris Jefferson in the first quarter – has now thrown 49 passes this season without being intercepted.
Athens 56, Mabank 14
Mabank 0 7 7 0 — 14
Athens 21 21 14 0 — 56
A – Logan Fuller 8 run (David Cedillo kick), 8:37
A – Ladarius Jordan 31 run (Cedillo kick), 6:59
A – Anthony Sanders 10 pass to Chris Jefferson (Cedillo kick), 2:21
A – Jordan 30 run (Cedillo kick), 10:35
M – Garrett Holcomb 14 run (Pedro Valdez kick), 4:17
A – Fuller 56 run (Cedillo kick), 4:06
A – Fuller 5 run (Cedillo kick), 1:02
A – Travon Fuller 85 KO return (Cedillo kick), 11:43
M – Dylan Schneider 7 run (Valdez kick), 7:13
A – Jordan 9 run (Cedillo kick), 4:38
First downs 16 20
Rush-yards 42-164 45-398
Passing yards 79 63
C-A-I 7-17-3 5-8-63
Fumbles-lost 3-1 0-0
Punts-avg. 5-28.6 2-30.0
Penalties-yards 3-15 6-55
Rushing — M: Garrett Holcomb 15-86; Cody Thompson 1-(-13); Dylan Schneider 23-91; Zane Koskelin 3-0. A: Anthony Sanders 4-43; Devin Hall 8-64; Logan Fuller 19-183; Ladarius Jordan 6-87; Adam Stallings 1-15; David Cedillo 4-7; Kynden Crist 2-5; Dylan Hart 1-(-6).
Passing — M: Cody Thompson 6-15-51-3; Garrett Holcomb 1-2-28-0. A: Anthony Sander 5-8-63-0.
Receiving — M: Dalton Reeder 1-28; Dylan Schneider 1-16; Garrett Holcomb 2-23. A: Travon Fuller 2-29; Chris Jefferson 2-24; Logan Fuller 1-10.