By: Chris Manning | | October 15, 2021 | Photo courtesy David Alliger


ATHENS — The good and the bad was on display for Athens in its 34-10 loss to unbeaten Canton in NTL football action here Friday at Alumni Stadium.

On offense, the Wildcats moved the ball against a potent Warrior defense, amassing 257 yards of total offense and 14 first downs. On the other hand, Athens had three turnovers, two of them in the first half that led to Canton touchdowns.

And on defense, they were able to force two turnovers from Canton, but also gave up 403 yards rushing as they couldn’t slow down the Warrior ground game.

“We talked at halftime, I don’t really think they stopped us in the first half, we stopped ourselves,” said Athens coach Jack Young, noting the two drive-killing turnovers. “And, they scored off both turnovers. You’ve got to give them credit, they’re a good football team. They’re well-coached. They score off two turnovers, and, other than that, it might be a 7-6 ball game at halftime.”

However, on the other side of the ball, Young didn’t recognize the team on the field.

“We didn’t play our kind of defense tonight,” he said. “Tackling was not good enough.”

Mason Lister was doing a lot of moving in the pocket Friday — both to extend plays, and also for his life at times — as he went 12-for-20 for 152 yards with one touchdown, and one pick.

He hit four different receivers, led by Karter Rude’s five catches for 69 yards. Caleb Nichols had three catches for 41 yards, Shayne Reid had three receptions for 40 yards, and Matt Machmer had a 2-yard touchdown catch.

On the ground, Reid poured and squirmed his way for 86 yards on 11 touches, and Nichols had 31 yards on five carries.

Lister was caught in the backfield six times to end up with minus-27 yards on 10 carries.

Defensively, though, they had no answer for Canton’s Riley Parker, who ran for 203 yards and three touchdowns on 14 carries. Two of his touchdowns runs were for 49 and 68 yards, and he had six carries that were over 10 yards.

Wes Bellows ran for 76 yards on 11 touches, Cooper Kitchen had 73 yards and a score on seven carries, and Hayden Ward finished with 44 yards and a touchdown on nine carries.

The first play from scrimmage portended a long night for Athens as Kitchen used a read-option over the right side of the line to run 60 yards to paydirt. The point-after was no good, but Canton led 6-0.

After a lightning delay 0f 30 minutes, things didn’t get much better for Athens. A block-in-the-back penalty on the kickoff backed them up inside their own 10-yard line. On third-and-14, Lister was sacked in the end zone by Caiden Williams to make it 8-0 with 10:43 on the clock.

Athens forced a punt on Canton’s ensuing possession, then started its next drive with a Reid 25-yard run to get close to midfield. However, three plays later, a Rude fumble was snatched up by Bellows, and Canton took over at their own 44-yard run.

After two short runs, and an Athens offsides, it was third-and-3 when Parker got the first of his three touchdowns runs. He went right, then cut it back left, stiff-armed the last Athens defender, and leaped into the end zone to finish off the 49-yard scoring run. The point-after was no good, but Canton led 14-0 with 5:13 left in the opening quarter.

The Wildcats opened their next drive with four straight runs, picking up a first down near midfield, but a Lister sack by Ward would ultimately force a punt.

The Warriors started the ensuing drive at their 21-yard line, and looked to be in business with a 15-yard Kitchen run on third-and-short. After a 12-yard Parker run, the Warriors were across midfield.

Three plays later Ward had a 9-yard run to get down to the Athens 30-yard line, but a holding call on the next play backed them up. They went to the air, and Kitchen’s pass was picked off by Reid, with Athens setting up shop at their own 26-yard line.

On the first place from scrimmage, Lister hit Reid for a 25-yard gain to get into Canton territory. An 18-yard run from Nichols on the next play put them down at the Warrior 31.

However, three plays later, Lister was fighting for a first down when he was stripped by Rian Eberly, with Brenen Taylor landing on it to give Canton the ball back.

That would be the starting point of a 12-play, 78-yard scoring drive that ended with a 1-yard run by Parker.

A 29-yard run by Bellows on the third play of the drive got them to midfield, and an 11-yard run by Parker on third-and-9 kept it going. Parker then pounded his way for 13 yards to get first-and-goal at the six, which eventually set up his scoring run.

Bailey Ferguson added the point-after, and Canton led 21-0 with 1:24 left in the half.

Athens showed last week that it could score quickly, and this week they did the same. Starting at their own-30 yard line, they would go seven plays to paydirt, ending with a Lister to Machmer 2-yard scoring hook-up with :02 left on the clock.

The Wildcats had four plays of 10 yards or more, while a late-hit call on Canton put the Wildcats down to the 21-yard line.

Reid added the point-after, and it was 21-7 at the half.

The Wildcats took the second half kick-off, and got right to work, as Lister hit Nichols for a 9-yard gain on the first play from scrimmage. 

Two plays later, Rude ran for eight yards. Then, on third-and-2, Lister found Rude for a 3-yard gain to keep the drive alive.

A helmet-to-helmet call against Canton put Athens down at the 5-yard line on third-and-4, but a holding call, followed by a sack, pushed them back to the 17.

They opted for a Reid 32-yard field goal with 6:31 on the clock, which was good, to end the 9-play scoring drive that started on the Warrior 33-yard line due to a personal foul on the kick-off.

With their lead down to 11 points, Canton responded on its next drive. Beginning at their own 35-yard line, they would go 65-yards on six plays, ending with a 14-yard scoring run from Ward.

A horse-collar call against Athens on the second play of the drive, followed by an 18-yard Bellows run on the fourth play were the key downs for Canton. The point-after was no good, but the Warriors led 27-10 with 3:55 left in the third quarter.

The ensuing Wildcat drive started well, with Lister hitting Nichols for a 14-yard gain and a first down, but a sack on the following snap pushed them back, and they were ultimately forced to punt.

Backed up to their own 18-yard line, Canton looked to chew some clock as the third quarter ticked away. After a Ward carry for a short gain, back-to-back runs of six and seven yards from Bellows gave them a fresh set of downs.

That’s when Parker had the run of the night, a 68-yard meandering rumble that saw him break the Athens defense. He went left, cut it back right — broke two open-field tackles — then cut back left to the end zone for the score.

Ferguson’s kick was good, and Canton led 34-10 with 10:27 left.

The Wildcats continued to pick up chunks of yards on their next drive — Reid had a 21-yard rush on the first play from scrimmage — but deep in Canton territory Michael Davis picked off a Lister pass to end that threat.

Canton would fumble the ball away inside their own 10-yard line on the next drive, but Athens still couldn’t get in the end zone, as on fourth-and-goal from the 4-yard line Lister was caught for a 1-yard loss.

The Warriors ran the clock out, and got their eighth win of the season.

Athens (5-3) is still in the playoff picture for Class AAA, but they have two tough games left, both of them on the road. Right now, Young is just worried about next week at Wellsboro.

“Our goal is 1-0 versus Wellsboro,” he said. “Build off what we can learn from our mistakes tonight. It’s always a great atmosphere out there, and our goal is to be 1-0.”