The Athens Review
This wasn't the game plan that Athens head coach Paul Essary and his staff had drawn up. You never really expect to turn the ball over five times and get flagged for more than 100 yards in penalties.
You can't expect it, but you can overcome it.
That's what the Hornets did Friday night when they blasted the Canton Eagles, 50-26, in the District 15-3A opener at Norris Birdwell Stadium. The victory sent the Hornets to 6-0, matching the team's best start since the 1996 season. No Athens team has ever started 7-0 during the UIL era, which dates back to the 1920s.
The Hornets will go for that historic seventh-straight win next week at defending district champion Van – a 50-14 winner over Mineola in other 15-3A action Friday night. Mabank will also enter next week's play at 1-0 in district after a 17-6 win over Brownsboro.
It was a deceptive 24-point victory in the sense that the Eagles (1-5) never let the Hornets breathe easy until they were able to go into the victory formation with under a minute left. The Hornets jumped out to a 16-0 lead 10 minutes into the game, but after four lost fumbles – the first-team offense had committed only one turnover in the previous five games combined – the Eagles only trailed 16-6 at the half.
The Hornets then carried a 37-6 lead into the fourth quarter, only to watch Canton's junior quarterback, Chandler Eiland, will his team back into some semblance of contention. Eiland, whose 89-yard rushing touchdown accounted for Canton's only first-half score, opened the fourth quarter with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Brad Wiggins. Eiland hit Ryan Slider with a two-point conversion to trim the lead to 37-14 with 10:50 to play.
The Eagles then recovered an onside kick and scored again four plays later on Eiland's 27-yard run that cut the lead to 37-20. Hornet fans may have felt like they were out of the woods when Nic Fincher recovered the next onside kick attempt and returned it 47 yards for an apparent touchdown. Instead, referees ruled Canton had touched the ball before it traveled the required 10 yards, killing the play at the Canton 47-yard line. The drive ended with an Athens punt.
Anthony Sanders, part of the Hornets' three-headed rushing attack on this particular night, eventually got his team back in the end zone on a 19-yard run that pushed the score to 44-20 with 2:52 left. But just 27 seconds later, Eiland – who passed for 275 yards and threw more passes (41) than the Hornet defense had seen against any opponent this season – found Wiggins on a 53-yard scoring connection that once again gave the Eagles a slight glimmer of hope.
That hope was dashed on the Hornets' back-breaking next possession, when the offense covered 64 yards in just four plays to score, this time on a two-yard run by sophomore fullback Logan Fuller. Canton fumbled away the ensuing kickoff, and finally the Hornets could run out the clock.
Sanders, Fuller and junior Devin Hall ran hard hard all night, and it wore down the Eagles as the game entered the late stages. Hall finished the night with 23 carries for 147 yards and a touchdown, Fuller ran 24 times for 146 yards with three touchdowns and Sanders ran 10 times for 90 yards with a pair of scores.
Athens 50, Canton 26
Athens 16 0 21 13 -- 50
Canton 0 6 0 20 -- 26
A -- Safety (ball snapped out of end zone), 10:33
A -- Logan Fuller 4 run (David Cedillo kick), 4:11
A -- Devin Hall 10 run (Cedillo kick), 2:32
C -- Chandler Eiland 89 run (kick blocked), 5:14
A -- Fuller 1 run (Cedillo kick), 8:12
A -- Anthony Sanders 12 run (Cedillo kick), 1:48
A -- Sanders 7 pass to Chris Jefferson (Cedillo kick), 0:46
C -- Eiland 25 pass to Brad Wiggins (Eiland to Ryan Slider), 10:50
C -- Eiland 27 run (pass fails), 9:20
A -- Sanders 19 run (Cedillo kick), 2:52
C -- Eiland 53 pass to Wiggins (run fails), 2:25
A -- Fuller 2 run (kick blocked), 0:53
First downs 25 13
Rush-yards 65-434 14-98
Passing yards 32 275
C-A-I 3-7-0 22-41-1
Fumbles-lost 6-5 4-2
Punts-avg. 2-39.5 4-28.5
Penalties-yards 12-105 5-40
Rushing — A: Anthony Sanders 10-90; Logan Fuller 24-146; Devin Hall 23-147; Ladarius Jordan 5-37; Travon Fuller 2-9; Adam Stallings 1-5. C: Chandler Eiland 11-103; Jordan Jackson 1-0; Brad Wiggins 1-17; team 1-(-22).
Passing — A: Anthony Sanders 3-7-32-0. C: Chandler Eiland 22-41-275-1.
Receiving — A: Travon Hall 1-12; Nikell Roberts 1-13; Chris Jefferson 1-7. C: Jordan Jackson 3-8; Brad Wiggins 7-130; Jared Grace 5-60; Garrett Denbow 3-33; Cody Smith 1-2; Samuel Miller 1-12; Ryan Slider 2-30.