Athens (1-6, 0-2) at Mabank (1-6, 0-2)
7:30 p.m. Friday
Mabank 46, Athens 0 (2009)
The University Interscholastic League voted earlier this week to expand the number of Class 3A playoff teams to four.
Since that won’t kick in until next year, the Athens Hornets and Mabank Panthers know they’ve got some work to do.
Heading into this weekend, Van, Canton and Brownsboro are 2-0 in District 15-3A play. Athens, Mabank and Mineola are 0-2 with three games left. The Hornets finish on the road at Mabank, at home against Mineola and on the road at Brownsboro.
In other words, the time to win is now.
“We did improve, and we were a better football team after last Friday night,” Athens head coach Paul Essary said. “We’ve improved a lot over the past two weeks.”
The Hornets (1-6 overall) have yielded 40 or more points in each of their last four games. However, in the last two — a 48-23 loss to Canton in the district opener and a 42-27 loss to Van last week — Athens was in the ballgame until the fourth quarter.
Essary’s club trailed Canton by only five as late as the 7:58 mark of the fourth quarter before the Eagles ripped off 20 straight points. And last week against Van, the Hornets trailed by a touchdown until Van scored with 4:30 left in the game.
Last week’s loss marked the Hornets’ best offensive showing of the season. Their 406 total yards was a season-high, as was their 327 rushing yards. In his seventh varsity game, sophomore Devin Hall rushed the ball 24 times for a career-high 267 yards.
Essary praised the work of offensive line coaches Craig Brown and Bill Cowley and the blocking crew of Jared Bailey, Dylon Deaver, Brian Gutierrez, Barrett Senycki (a recent junior varsity call-up) and Juan Guzman, in addition to tight ends K.J. Cumby and Nic Fincher.
“Devin’s run hard like this all year — that was nothing new,” Essary said. “It’s taken some time for the offensive line to come around. Any team that runs the ball will tell you you’re only as good as your offensive line.”
The Panthers (1-6) are in the same boat as the Hornets — tough season so far, but with a chance to turn things around under first-year head coach Jared Wingfield.
The Panthers’ lone win of the season came against Kemp, a 31-7 victory on September 21. They opened district two weeks ago with a 36-11 loss to Brownsboro and fell to Canton last week, 48-7.
Mabank has struggled to reach the end zone, scoring seven points or less in four of their seven games this season.