There’s a place coaches like their teams to reach at this time of year, and the Athens Hornets seemed like they were knocking on the door.
Instead, the same old nagging mistakes kept the Hornets from entering in a 42-27 loss to the Van Vandals Friday night at Bruce Field.
The Hornets’ fifth straight loss was as much a roller coaster ride as any game yet, with Athens (1-6, 0-2 in District 15-3A) driving into Van territory early in the fourth quarter with a chance to tie the game.
But it was Van (6-1, 2-0) coming up with the breaks to pull away and remain tied atop district with Brownsboro — which blasted Mineola Friday, 40-21, to also move to 2-0.
The sting of defeat might have been assuaged, to some degree, by the performances of sophomore running back Devin Hall and senior kicker Jesse Durham.
Durham has continued to come on strong over the past two weeks, nailing two more field goals — from 24 and 35 yards away — a week after setting the school record with a 48-yarder against Canton. He’s hit 14 extra-point tries this season, with only one attempt failing due to a block.
And then there’s Hall, who has emerged as one of the top running threats for Athens in recent memory. Hall ran 24 times Friday night for 267 yards. While that was far short of Ronnie Smith’s school-record of 342 achieved against West Mesquite in 1988, it neared the man in second place on the all-time single-game individual rushing list — Kenneth Sessions, who went for 270 on 31 carries in November 1976.
Hall — taking full advantage of solid offensive line play — now leads the Hornets in carries (112), rushing yards (605) and touchdowns (7). His effort Friday night nearly matched his season-total of 338 heading into the game.
But the Hornets continue to struggle in their search to put an entire game together. Van jumped out to leads of 12-0 and 34-13 before the Hornets marched back into the game. After Vandal quarterback Garrett Smallwood threw his third touchdown pass of the game, hitting Andrew Platter to give his team a 21-point cushion, the Hornets got consecutive scores from Hall and Adam Stallings to trim the lead to 34-27 with 3:08 left in the third.
The Hornets then got the ball back deep in Van territory with 9:11 to go after Chris Prox caused a fumble that was recovered by Tyler Trussell at the Van 29-yard line.
After an incomplete pass, Hall bulled his way down to around the 25-yard line, but Athens was called for holding, pushing the ball back to the 39. The Hornets were then flagged for a false start on the next play, moving it to the 44. A dropped pass and another incompletion later, and Athens was forced to punt.
The Vandals then drove to the Athens 16, where they were facing a fourth-and-four, but the Hornets were flagged for a dead-ball personal foul. Van was awarded an automatic first down and the ball was moved to the Athens 8, and Hunter Hopkins scored two plays later.
Hopkins also had an 81-yard kickoff return for a score — marking the second straight week Athens has given up a return in the kicking game.
Van 42, Athens 27
Van 19 7 8 8 — 42
Athens 10 3 14 0 — 27
V -- Andrew Platter 22 pass from Garrett Smallwood (kick blocked), 9:03
V -- Smallwood 24 run (kick fails), 7:26
A -- Jesse Durham 24 FG, 3:20
A -- Devin Hall 25 run (Durham kick), 0:20
V -- Hunter Hopkins 81 kickoff return (Frankie Grijalva kick), 0:06
A -- Durham 35 FG, 7:35
V -- Carson Rucker 33 pass from Smallwood (Grijalva kick), 2:28
V -- Platter 26 pass from Smallwood (Smallwood to Matt Savis pass), 11:09
A -- Hall 18 run (Durham kick), 7:46
A -- Adam Stallings 2 run (Durham kick), 3:08
V -- Hopkins 8 run (Smallwood to Platter pass), 4:30
First downs 20 20
Rush-yards 29-139 46-327
Passing yards 263 79
C-A-I 16-28-1 9-25-1
Fumbles-lost 3-1 5-2
Punts-avg. 2-43.5 3-40.3
Penalties-yards 5-35 7-56
Rushing — V: Matt Savis 13-61; Garrett Smallwood 7-29; Luke McGowan 1-6; Hunter Hopkins 3-21; Sid Moore 4-22; team 1-0. A: Raheem Miller 5-(-6); Anthony Sanders 13-52; Adam Stallings 2-12; Devin Hall 24-267; Kody Ingham 1-2; George Hutson 1-0.
Passing — V: Garrett Smallwood 16-28-1-263. A: Anthony Sanders 8-20-1-68; George Hutson 1-5-0-11.
Receiving — V: Luke McGowan 2-34; Carson Rucker 5-85; Andrew Platter 6-89; Matt Savis 3-55. A: Kody Ingham 2-25; Adam Stallings 1-1; Raheem Miller 2-8; Anthony Sanders 1-11; Javonte Johnson 1-14; Travon Fuller 2-20.