Athens — As his teammates hooted and hollered and danced to celebrate Friday night's 31-25 season-opening win over the Kaufman Lions, Anthony Sanders sat on a weight bench in the Hornets' locker room getting tape cut off his ankles.
“I'm tired, man,” he said, looking every bit the part of a prize fighter who just went the distance. “I'm so tired I can't even celebrate with my teammates.”
It was an acceptable excuse. After all, Sanders did most of his dancing on the turf at Bruce Field over the prior 48 minutes.
The Athens senior accounted for 173 total yards – including 82 rushing – to lead the Hornets to their first season-opening win in five seasons under head coach Paul Essary. Sanders opened the scoring with a 38-yard interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter, ran for a score in the second and tossed two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to complete the comeback over the Lions, who last season never let Athens in the game in a 44-14 victory – Essary's fourth-consecutive season-opening loss.
“That's a monkey off the back of our program,” said Essary, who's aiming to lead the Hornets to the playoffs for the fourth time in his five season. “That's a monkey off my back as a head coach. It's really been a spur in my saddle, personally. I felt like if we could go into halftime tied or ahead, we were going to win the game.”
The Hornets led at the half, 13-12. But the Lions grabbed their first lead of the game with 6:42 left in the third quarter on a four-yard run by Josh Ramirez. The Lions then made the Hornets settle for a 27-yard David Cedillo field goal to maintain an 18-16 advantage late in the third, which grew to 25-16 on quarterback Clay Rhodes' winding 50-yard touchdown run with 10:39 left in the fourth quarter.