Jayson Larson/Special to the Review
The Athens Review
It’s a phenomenon baseball legend Yogi Berra called, “Déjà vu all over again.” The Athens Hornets know it well.
As the Hornets (6-0) prepare to hit the road to face the Van Vandals this week, it’s hard to ignore the similarities to last week’s game against the Canton Eagles – a game the Hornets won, 50-26.
Van, the reigning District 15-3A champion, hadn’t won a game until last week, when it manhandled Mineola, 50-14.
The same was true for the Hornets last week, when they faced a Canton team that had been winless until the previous game. Athens was a one-win team heading into the Canton and Van games a year ago, and this time around, Canton and Van are the one-win teams.
It’s been a far different run for the Vandals thus far, who are 1-5 a season after going 9-1 and 5-0 in district.
Another similarity is that, once again, Athens head coach Paul Essary isn’t the least bit convinced his team has an easy task at hand despite the opponent having just one win.
“Van put it on Mineola pretty well last week,” Essary said. “Stats-wise, they’ve got one of the best running backs in the district, a huge offensive line and their defense takes pride in shutting down the run. They’re young in some places, but they’re getting better every week.”
If Van is, indeed, set against stopping the run, it should provide an interesting battle against a team that’s dead-set on riding its rushing attack.
Through six games, the Hornets have scored 32 touchdowns (26 coming via the rush) and compiled 2,514 offensive yards (of which 2,207 have come on the ground).
Sophomore fullback Logan Fuller leads the team with 802 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns, and junior Devin Hall isn’t far behind with 648 yards and eight scores. Hall had a career game against Van in last season’s 42-27 loss to the Vandals, running for 267 yards — the third-best single-game rushing total in school history.
Essary said the success of the running game has a lot to do with what his ball-carriers are doing when they don’t have the ball.
“All of our backs do a good job running their fakes out,” he said. “If they don’t do that well, our offense isn’t very good. They’re also doing a great job blocking, and that’s a key factor. (Offensive coordinator Kevin) Hayes isn’t going to let one of those guys on the field if he can’t block.”
Van has a solid running back of its own in Matt Savis, who is the second-leading rusher in East Texas with 1,025 yards to go along with nine touchdowns.
Quarterback Peter Maddox, who replaced 2012 unanimous district MVP Garrett Smallwood, has thrown for 744 yards and five touchdowns, while Luke McGowan has caught 26 balls for 250 yards and three touchdowns.
One thing the Hornets don’t want to see a repeat of this week are the mistakes that plagued them last week.
Athens lost a season-high five fumbles (after the first-team offense had just one through the first five games) and was penalized 12 times for 105 yards.
“When you’re doing well and getting better every week, and then you play after an open week, it can break your momentum and focus,” Essary said. “It’s hard to get back your focus, and I think Canton gave us a wake-up call. But I was proud of our kids overcoming the turnovers, the penalties and the adversity.”