The Athens Hornets kicked off the home portion of their 2019 schedule on Friday as they hosted the Rusk Eagles.

The Hornets opened the Zac Harrell era last week with a 33-14 win at the Brownsboro Bears while the Eagles were looking to bounce back from a 47-34 loss at home to Fairfield.

The teams exchanged the first half lead and while the Eagles hung in there in the second half, Athens was able to put the game away late to pick up the 28-16 win. 

The Eagles started the game strong with their running game on display. Starting at their own 33, Rusk would reach Athens’ 4-yard line and Alex Jones would punch it in to cap off a four-and-a-half minute drive for the 8-0 lead after a two point conversion. Quarterback Jaylon Hall ran for 39 yards on the drive and the Eagles converted four first downs.

On the first Hornet drive, they responded and after reaching the Eagle 20, Nathan Sims took off for the 20-yard touchdown run and Athens trailed 8-7 with 2:10 in the first quarter.

Rusk had the ball at their own 42 as the first quarter ended and the second quarter began, but they would punt it away.

Athens kicked off their next drive with a bang as Jerquindon Taylor threw a 37-yard completion to Jaylynn Gualdarama at Rusk’s 26. 

Facing a 4th-and-2 at the Eagle 18, the Hornets called a timeout and would go for it. Sims dashed for an 18-yard touchdown, his second of the game, and Athens led for the first time at 14-8 with under nine minutes until halftime.

Joseph McGowan returned the ensuing kickoff into Hornet territory, but he fumbled it and Athens recovered it at their 27-yard line. However, Athens was not able to capitalize on the turnover and they would punt it away.

With 4:33 until the break, Rusk punted on their next drive, but after bouncing off of the Hornets, it was a live ball and the Eagles got it right back at Athens’ 21.

With a 1st-and-10 at the Hornet 10, Athens’ defense responded with a big stop, including a sack on Hall by Rowdy Godwin with assistance from Derek Killingsworth and AJ Hill on third down and forcing an incomplete pass on fourth down.

The Hornets got the ball back with 1:39, but the clock ran out and they took the 14-8 intermission lead.

It looked like the first play of the second half would be a 73-yard touchdown run by Taylor, but it was called back on a penalty.

The Hornets would reach the Eagle 43 following a defensive pass interference. They converted a 4th-and-1 at Rusk’s 23 as Sims picked up a yard on the ground. Two plays later, he got his third score of the game as he picked up a 13-yard touchdown run and Athens built their lead to 21-8 with 7:31 in the third quarter.

Jaden Rushing led Rusk on their next drive as he opened the possession with a kickoff return to Athens’ 22. The Eagles punched it in three plays later and Sean Rogers caught a two point conversion as Rusk trailed 21-16 with 5:42.

The Eagle defense forced a turnover on downs on the next Hornet drive, but Rusk would then go three-and-out to punt. Athens had the ball at their own 22 as the third quarter ended.

With a 4th-and-1 at their 48, the Hornets converted with an eight-yard run from Sims. Frederich ran for a first down and an automatic first down came after a penalty on the Eagles, placing Athens at Rusk’s 17. Two plays later, D'andre Thompson caught a 20-yard touchdown catch and the Hornets led 28-16 with 6:35 left.

With one more shot to get back into it with 6:30, Rusk turned the ball over on downs again with an incomplete pass from Hall on 4th-and-16.

The Hornets ran out the clock on their next possession, including a 4th down conversion, to pick up the 28-16 home win.

Frederich was 7-of-11 with 48 yards and a touchdown. Nathan Sims led the Hornets in touchdowns as he had three rushing scores on 28 carries for 183 yards. D’andre Thompson had a receiving touchdown. The Hornet offense converted four of five fourth downs. The defense produced three turnovers with a fumble recovery while Derek Killingsworth had one sack and Juan Marron led with seven tackles.

For the Eagles, Alex Jones had one of the Eagles' two touchdowns. The Eagle defense forced a turnover.

Athens improves to 2-0 and Rusk drops to 0-2.

The Hornets hit the road Sept. 13 to play at Fairfield at 7:30 p.m while the Eagles will host Palestine that same night and time.

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