Ty Arroyo

Athens quarterback Ty Arroyo (2) looks to guide the offense to their first District 9-4A win as they face a talented Kilgore team Friday at R.E. St. John Memorial Stadium in Kilgore. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.

The Athens Hornets wrap up their final road trip of the year Friday in Kilgore.

Coach Zac Harrell said even with the Hornets eliminated from the playoffs, these last two games are big to send the Hornets into to the offseason with some momentum heading into next year.

The Hornets are now 4-4 overall and 0-4 in District 9-4A play with two games remaining following last week’s 46-29 loss to Palestine at Bruce Field.

“We are not happy with being 0-4 in district and 4-4 overall,” Athens coach Zac Harrell said. “That is not our goals or what we want, but we have seen our team continue to improve and fight. There are a lot of things that if you look at it, our guys have gotten better every week.”

The Hornets travel to R.E. St. John Memorial Stadium in their final road trip to face the Kilgore Bulldogs at 7:30 p.m.

The Bulldogs (7-1 overall, 4-0 in district play) defeated Henderson, 35-34, in Henderson Friday.

“They have a new staff and they are still a great team,” Harrell said. “I thought they were the most talented team in the district last year. They are probably the most talented team in the district this year because they are undefeated. It will be a great challenge, and like I told our guys we have not put together a highly executed game yet. That is what we are trying to do Friday night.”

One of the players to watch for Kilgore Friday is quarterback Da’Marion Van Zandt. He has thrown for 1,305 yards with 12 touchdowns to only two interceptions this season. Van Zandt has also rushed for four touchdowns.

“He is a big quarterback and is a big kid,” Harrell said. “As a sophomore last year, he was their backup and they want to use him in the passing game. They don’t use him a ton in the running game and you don’t have to when you have running backs like they do. He does a great job leading their offense and they haven’t lost much with him this year.”

When it comes to the rushing game, Davin Rider leads the way with 1,197 yards only 114 carries with 17 touchdowns. The next three are Isaiah Ross and Matthew Hardy as Ross has 346 yards with three touchdowns, while Hardy has 206 yards with one touchdown.

“He (Rider) is a really good player,” Harrell said. “He got banged up in the last game against Henderson, so I am not sure on his status but if he is there he is very explosive. Anybody that averages 10 yards a carry means you have a lot of big runs. We have to do a great job of getting as many hats to the ball as we can and wrapping him up.”

Van Zandt’s top target at receiver is Corey Rider with 12 catches for 389 yards with five touchdowns. Jermaine Rodey has 24 receptions for 340 yards and six touchdowns and Dadrian Franklin has 13 receptions for 166 yards and one TD.

“Offensively, they are about 50-50 run to pass and they do a great job and are very physical,” Harrell said. “They are very multiple and they want to throw it to their outside receivers. Corey Rider is probably their best deep threat. He is also their best corner and they want to get the ball to him down the field. We have to do a good job of keeping him in front of us.”

Defensively, Chris Ervin has 60 tackles with five for loss to go with one sack, one interception, two pass breakups, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. Second on the team is Kendall Dunn with 55 tackles and one sack.

“He (Ervin) is their top guy and they play him in some different positions at outside linebacker most of the time,” Harrell said. “He could be a safety and is an excellent player. Alex Chavez at defensive end is another talented player. I thought he was one of the best players last year as well.”

Peyton Christian leads the team in sacks with three to go along with 43 tackles and two fumble recoveries.

“You watch them on defense and they are by far the most physical team we have played,” Harrell said. “They base out of an odd front, but they will get in an even front as well. They are led by their physicality and their defensive line is very strong.”

Harrell said the word of the week is Abnormal, which he said is based on how this season is not where they want to be at this point in the season.

“Our keys of the week are we have to do a better job on third down, which the past two weeks we have been 6-for-26,” Harrell said. “We have to do a great job defensively of not giving up the big play, we have to continue to block multiple fronts, we want to play harder than they do and No. 5 we want to have no miscues in the kicking game.”

Note: For the entire interview, check out the Coaches Corner podcast on our social media pages above this story on www.athensreview.com.

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