Jayson Larson/Special to the Review
The Athens Review
The battle for the District 15-3A championship runs through Van. When the Vandals blasted their way to an undefeated title in 2012, they earned that right.
That being said, the Athens Hornets are playing like the heir apparent.
The Hornets improved to 7-0 on the season and 2-0 in 15-3A by holding on for a 28-23 win over the Vandals Friday night at Van Memorial Stadium. The win marked the first 7-0 start in Athens school history during the UIL era, which dates back to the 1920s.
Van, which finished the regular season at 9-1 last year, fell to 1-6 and 1-1. The Vandals made the Hornets fight hard to the final buzzer, scoring a touchdown with 20 seconds left to cut the Athens lead to five. Hornet sophomore Travon Fuller recovered Van's onside kick attempt moments later to seal the victory.
The Hornets got a pair of touchdowns from sophomore fullback Logan Fuller and one score each from senior quarterback Anthony Sanders and junior running back Devin Hall. The Hornets missed a chance for more when they lost three fumbles inside the red zone – at the Van 15-, 8- and 1-yard line.
The last fumble, with 2:41 left in the game, set up Van quarterback Peter Maddox's 20-yard touchdown pass to Layton Myers that cut the lead to 28-23, giving the Vandals a sliver of hope.
Even so, Van became the latest team to find itself unable to stop the Hornets' rushing attack. Fuller's 155 yards led the team, and he will enter next week's Homecoming game against Mabank 43 yards shy of the 1,000 mark for the season.
Fuller now has a team-leading 14 rushing touchdowns and has tallied more than 100 yards in five straight games and six of seven. He's 336 yards shy of Kenneth Sessions' school record for rushing yards in a season, 1,293, set in 1976.
Hall went for 131 against the Vandal defense, marking his second-straight 100-yard game. Sanders flirted with the century mark before finishing with 84 yards on 12 carries.
This matchup – a defending district champ against an aspiring one – played itself out like a heavyweight battle. The Hornets went up 7-0 on Fuller's first touchdown run of the game, from 36 yards out, and Van counterpunched on a Matt Savis one-yard run to cut the lead to 7-6.
Sanders gave the Hornets a little breathing room with his own one-yard score with 55 seconds left in the second quarter, but the Vandals jabbed back with Josef Ruiz's 40-yard field goal as time expired to keep the lead to single digits (14-9) at the half.
The second half was much the same – point and counterpoint.
Fuller's second rushing touchdown, a 12-yarder punctuated by his two-point conversion run, increased the Hornets' lead to 22-9 with six minutes left in the third. Five minutes later, Maddox and Myers hooked up for their first score on a 14-yard pass to bring the lead back down to six at 22-16.
Van tried to catch Athens offguard with an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff, but Logan Allen won a battle for the ball under a pile of players to set the Hornets up with a short field. Eight plays and 55 yards later, Hall scored from seven yards out to push the Hornets' lead to 28-16 with 10 minutes to go.
The Vandals stayed in the fight and drove the ball into Athens territory, but they were forced to turn the ball over on downs at the Athens 38 when senior linebacker Adam Stallings barreled around the right end to sack Maddox for an eight-yard loss.
At that point, the Vandals were not only fighting the Hornets, but the clock. Though the next Athens drive ended with a fumble, the Hornets burned five minutes and the Vandals needed a little more than two minutes to reach the end zone.
Athens 28, Van 23
Athens 7 7 8 6 -- 28
Van 0 9 7 7 -- 23
A – Logan Fuller 36 run (David Cedillo kick), 2:37
V – Matt Savis 1 run (kick fails), 10:16
A – Anthony Sanders 1 run (Cedillo kick), 0:55
V – Josef Ruiz 40 FG, 0:01
A – Fuller 12 run (Fuller run), 6:02
V – Peter Maddox 14 pass to Layton Myers (Ruiz kick), 1:08
A – Devin Hall 7 run (pass fails), 10:16
V – Maddox 20 pass to Myers (Ruiz kick), 0:20
First downs 25 21
Rush-yards 61-401 40-148
Passing yards 26 203
C-A-I 1-4-0 17-31-0
Fumbles-lost 4-3 0-0
Punts-avg. 0-00.0 4-36.2
Penalties-yards 7-45 9-52
Rushing — A: Logan Fuller 20-155; Ladarius Jordan 6-33; Anthony Sanders 13-84; Devin Hall 21-131; Travon Fuller 1-(-2). V: Matt Savis 29-140; Peter Maddox 9-6; Deundre Johnson 2-2.
Passing — A: Anthony Sanders 1-4-26-0. V: Peter Maddox 17-31-203-0.
Receiving — A: Chris Jefferson 1-26. V: Layton Myers 5-57; Luke McGowan 2-33; Kendrick Jones 7-89; Brock Moore 1-11; Caleb Ross 1-3; Matt Savis 1-10.