By: Tim Birney | | September 16, 2022


WELLSBORO — Wellsboro scored on its first possession, but the Athens defense kept them off the board until the final minute of the game in a 23-13 win here Friday night in NTL Large School football action.

The win snaps the Wildcats’ five-game losing streak to the Hornets, which dates back to the 2015 season.

“Wellsboro has had our number,” said Athens coach Jack Young. “I don’t remember the last time we beat them.

“It’s nice to play a good ball game, and get a good quality win on the road,” Young added.

The game took nearly three hours to play, thanks in part to 23 penalties — 12 on Wellsboro for 100 yards, and 11 for 115 yards on Athens.

“The penalties were out of control,” said Young. “It was a sloppy game in that regard.

“We have to work on getting better with (penalties),” Young added.

Young said his defense was the key in the victory.

“The kids bought into the defensive game plan, and they were well-prepared,” he said. “It’s probably the best prepared we’ve been this year.

“When it comes down to it, we won the turnover game, we tackled really, really well, and we didn’t give up big plays,” added Young. “Those three things were the ingredients to success tonight.”

Wellsboro’s Spencer Wetzel returned the opening kickoff 40 yards to the Athens 45, and nine plays later Hornet QB Conner Adams scored on a 1-yard run. Jack Poirier’s PAT kick made it 7-0 with 8:47 remaining in the opening quarter.

The key plays in the drive were a 10-yard pass from Adams to Wetzel, and a 16-yard pass to Joe Brown.

“(Wellsboro) came out in the opening drive, and they put one down on us,” said Young. “We didn’t execute on the first drive, but we lifted up our intensity after that and we got after it.”

Athens initial possession ended after one first down, but Wellsboro took over at its own 40 following a punt.

Four penalties later, the Hornets faced a fourth-and-35 from their own 15, and a 28-yard punt gave the Wildcats the ball at the Wellsboro 43.

Athens couldn’t do anything with the field position, and the teams exchanged possessions with the Wildcats stopping Wellsboro on downs at the Athens 37 early in the second quarter.

Athens QB Mason Lister engineered an eight-play, 63-yard TD drive to tie the game at 7-7 with 5:03 remaining in the first half.

Lister completed an 18-yard pass to senior running back Caleb Nichols on a third-and-6 early in the possession, then connected with senior Lucas Horton for 16 yards. Facing a third-and-1, Lister hooked up with Horton on a 26-yard TD pass.

Athens’ first possession of the second half stalled at the Wellsboro 40, but Horton’s punt pinned the Hornets at their own 6.

The Wildcat defense forced a three-and-out, which gave the Athens offense the ball back at the Wellsboro 40.

After a 10-yard run by Horton, Lister connected with three different receivers on three consecutive plays to move the ball to the Wellsboro 27.

On second down, Lister ripped off a 10-yard run, and two plays later scored on a 3-yard run. Lister connected with senior Glenn Romberger on the two-point conversion to make it 15-7 with 41 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

After the teams traded punts, Athens sophomore Kolsen Keathley intercepted an Adams pass for the game’s only turnover, and returned it to the Wellsboro 32.

Following an initial first down, Athens was flagged for holding, and Lister was sacked, resulting in a second-and-31. The Wildcats lined up to punt moments later, but the Hornets were flagged for roughing-the-snapper, and Athens had a first down at the Wellsboro 15.

Two plays later, Nichols broken free on a 17-yard TD run with 1:15 remaining in the game. Lister tacked on the conversion run to extend the lead to 23-7.

After Wetzel returned the ensuing kickoff to the Athens 49, the Hornets got a 13-yard run by Adams, and 15 yards tacked on for a late hit to move the ball to the Athens 21.

Two plays later, Adams connected with Marek Mascho on a 19-yard TD pass to close the gap to 23-13.

The Wildcats recovered the ensuing onside kick, and Lister took a knee as time expired.

Lister completed 16 of 23 passes for 164 yards and one TD, with Horton hauling down five catches for 64 yards and one TD. Sophomore Xavier Watson added four grabs for 29 yards, and Nichols

“(Wellsboro) gave us fits in pass protection,” said Young. “We made some adjustments late in the first half, and again at halftime. They have two very strong defensive ends, and we had some difficulties containing them, but our guys were working hard.

“Our pass protection wasn’t great, but Mason (Lister) did a nice job overall,” noted Young.

“Wellsboro was doing everything in their power not to let us throw the ball down the field, and they did a pretty good job of that,” he added.

Nichols led the Athens ground game with 43 yards and a TD on 19 carries. In all, Athens rushed for 84 yards on 38 carries.

“What I’m most proud of our guys for is our running game,” said Young.

“At halftime we talked about running the ball, whether we’re spread or under center, and in the second half, we picked up the running game,” he added.

Adams completed 15 of 24 passes for 127 yards, one TD, and one interception for the Hornets, and also led his team with 52 rushing yards and one TD on 15 carries. Wellsboro rushed for 91 yards on 27 carries.

Athens, now 3-1, is on the road at Troy next Friday.


About the Author

Tim Birney Author Bio
Tim Birney

Tim Birney is the founder / owner of River Road Media Group. He was born and raised in the Valley, graduating from Waverly High School in 1984.

Birney earned an Associate's Degree in Journalism from SUNY Morrisville in 1986 and a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism / Public Relations from Utica College of Syracuse University in 1988. He began his newspaper career at The Daily Review in Towanda in 1989, before moving on to The Evening Times in 1995. He spent more than 10 years at the Times, the last four as Managing Editor.

River Road Media Group includes five sites in "The Sports Reports" family that cover 24 school districts in five counties: Valley Sports Report (launched Aug. 10, 2009), Tioga County (NY) Sports Report (Aug. 13, 2018), and Northern Tier Sports Report (Aug. 31, 2020); Northern Tier West Sports Report (March 15, 2021) Southern Tier Sports Report (Aug. 16, 2021).