The Athens Review
The Athens Hornets can relate to where the Canton Eagles are right about now. And the Eagles have been pretty much where the Hornets currently stand.
On Friday, one team will be trying to slow down the hottest team in the district and the other will be trying to do a little heating up of its own.
The Hornets are the hot team, entering the District 15-3A opener at 5-0. The Eagles, coming off their first win of the season two weeks ago against Wills Point, are 1-4. The Hornets were 1-4 heading into this game last year, and Canton was 4-1.
“Canton is in the same boat we were in this time last year,” Athens head coach Paul Essary said.
“They're 1-4, they've had some injuries to key players and they're playing with a lot of young players. But they've got them all back for the Wills Point game and made a lot of improvements. I feel like they're going to be a lot better (this week).”
Essary said the open week gave the Hornets a little extra time to heal injuries and work on execution and fundamentals. He said the team also broke down its special teams play and worked to improve in that area.
That's probably not a bad idea considering the Hornets gave up a 66-yard kickoff return for a touchdown last week.
During their 48-23 victory over the Hornets last year, the Eagles returned the opening kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown. The Eagles also had four plays of 47 yards or more — including touchdown passes of 83 and 74 yards and a 91-yard run that set up another score.
The Hornet defense has done a solid job limiting big plays through five games this season, giving up 10 plays of 20 yards or more. Five of those have gone for touchdowns — two in their 35-28 win over Palestine two weeks ago.
Essary says the improvement can be attributed to defensive focus, reading the correct keys and not guessing against the passing game. “Whenever you guess, you give up big plays,” he said, “and Canton throws the ball very well.”
The Eagles are led offensively by quarterback Chandler Eiland, who last year as a sophomore was named the district's Offensive Player of the Year. Essary said the Eagles have several skill-position players who have the potential to find the end zone. That will challenge Athens' defensive players to make tackles on the first try, rather than allowing runners to make a strong second effort and gain extra yards.
“This is when it counts,” Essary said. “Everyone is 0-0. This is what we've been working on since last December.”