ATHENS — Athens scored in the final 30 seconds of the first half, and
then three more times in the second half to erase an 18-7 deficit en
route to a 35-18 win over South Williamsport here Friday night in NTL
football action at Alumni Stadium.
“We did some gut-checking at halftime. We talked about physicality. We weren’t tackling well,” said longtime Athens coach Jack Young. “We changed our defensive plan in the second half, and we improved our tackling. To me, that was the key.
“(South) is a physical football team, and we talked about that all week,” noted Young. “We came out and did exactly what we wanted to in the first drive, then we let them push us around, and control the physicality of the game.
“We came out against a very physical offensive football team, and our kids responded. In the second half, they really responded.
“The bottom line is, we played three games in 13 days. That’s difficult, I don’t care who you are,” added Young. “It was a great team W.”
Young said the Wildcats played well on both sides of the ball in the second half, but the biggest play of the game was made on special teams — a blocked punt by senior Ben Pernaselli that set up the go-ahead TD in the third quarter.
“Ben’s is a game-changer. He changed that game with the blocked punt,” said Young. “On punt return, he has the green light to go get the ball if he thinks he can get it. He went right through the blocker, and blocked that punt — to me that was the game-changer.”
The Wildcats rushed for 273 yards, with 171 yards coming after the halftime intermission. Junior Shayne Reid led the way with 199 yards and two TDs on 22 carries, while sophomore Caleb Nichols had 33 yards and one TD on seven carries, senior fullback Tanner Dildine added 22 yards on three touches.
“Our senior linemen — Connor Sindoni, Lucas Aquilio, Ian Wright, Zac Gowin, who is a newcomer for us, Caleb Houseknecht, and Ben Pernaselli really stepped it up for us,” said Young.
After forcing South Williamsport into a punt on its first possession, Athens took the ball and marched 82 yards on seven plays to take a 7-0 lead. Reid covered 76 yards on five carries, including an 18-yard TD run with 4:44 left in the first quarter.
The Mounties scored on its next three possessions with Zach Miller doing the majority of the damage. He rushed for 125 yards and one TD on 16 carries in the first two quarters, but only finished with 152 yards on 27 carries.
Miller ripped off runs of 35 and 24 yards in South’s five-play, 67-yard scoring drive that was capped by QB Landon Lorson 3-yard TD run with 2:27 left in the first quarter. The point-after was no good leaving Athens ahead 7-6.
After a quick three-and-out by the Wildcats, the Mounties marched 63 yards on nine plays, with Miller carrying the ball seven times for 44 yards, including a 5-yard TD run with 8:55 remaining in the first half. The conversion failed, but South led 12-7.
The Wildcats got a quick first down on its next possession, thanks to a 10-yard pass from Lister to junior Karter Rude, but a penalty and a pair of negative plays left them facing 4th-and-24.
The Mounties needed just five plays to march 56 yards after the Wildcat punt, with Lorson connecting with Grant Bachman on a 29-yard TD hook-up with 4:05 left in the half to up the advantage to 18-7.
The Wildcat offense roared back to life on its next possession.
Lister completed three passes — 8- and 9-yarders to Reid, and a 16-yard completion to Rude, and Nichols picked up 17 yards on four carries to move the ball to the South Williamsport 9 with 37 seconds remaining in the first half.
The Wildcats caught a break when Reid’s fumble at the 1 was recovered by a Mountie as he rolled out-of-bounds, leaving the Wildcats with possession at the 1. Lister finished off the drive with a QB keeper with 28 seconds remaining.
Reid’s second point-after kick trimmed the deficit to 18-14.
The Wildcat defense bailed out the special teams early in the third quarter. On the opening kick of the second half, Athens failed to cover a squib kick, and the Mounties pounced on it at the Athens 19.
Six plays later, on fourth-and-goal at the 7, Grant Bachman hauled in a pass from Lorson, but Athens defensive back Jared Peterson made a TD-saving tackle at the 1.
The Wildcats picked up a pair of first downs to move the ball out of the shadow of their end zone, but eventually punted the ball away. Nichols’ 52-yard punt pinned the Mounties at their own 15.
Athens forced South into a three-and-out, and Pernaselli came up with a punt block, and Aiden Harford pounced on the loose ball at South’s 1-yard line.
“Our stop after a big, big mistake on the opening kickoff of the second half was huge, but Ben Pernaselli’s blocked punt was the game-changer,” said Young.
Lister scored on his second 1-yard plunge of the game on Athens’ first play, and Reid’s point-after kick made it 21-18 with 3:38 left in the first quarter.
The Athens defense forced another three-and-out, and the offense drove 78 yards on nine plays to increase its lead.
Reid covered the final 51 yards on three carries, including a 10-yard TD run with 10:12 remaining in the contest. Reid’s fourth PAT made it 28-18.
South Williamsport fumbled the ball away at its 25 on its ensuing possession, and Athens needed just two plays to find paydirt — a 20-yard run by Reid, and an 8-yard TD scamper by Nichols. Reid’s point-after kick with 7:38 remaining provided the final margin.
Later in the quarter, the Wildcats nearly added to their lead when sophomore linebacker Troy Jennings scooped up a Mountie fumble and rumbled 25 yards for an apparent score, but a block-in-the-back call negated the TD.
Lister, who had two rushing TDs, completed 5 of 12 passes for 50 yards. Rude and Reid each had two grabs, Rude’s for 26 yards, and Reid’s for 17.
Athens, now 4-1, travels to Montgomery Friday.
ATHENS — It took a couple of series to shake off the rust — the result
of not playing a game in 31 days, but once Canton hit its stride, it put
together a convincing performance in a 33-9 win over Athens here Monday
night in NTL Large School football action at Alumni Stadium.
“We were rusty, which I’m not happy about, but I guess it had to be expected,” said Canton coach Tyler Sechrist. “We haven’t played in a month, and we only had three practices before this game.
“Once we got rolling, I was happy with the way we played,” added Sechrist.
“They are a good football team, there’s no doubt. They are well-coached, and have some talented kids,” said Athens coach Jack Young. “But, we did some things that are out of character for us, and it’s tough to compete against a team like Canton when you do those types of things.”
The Warriors opened the game with the ball, but a block-in-the-back penalty and a QB sack by seniors Athens Tanner Dildine and Caleb Houseknecht left them in a fourth-and-30 hole.
The Wildcats took over at their own 40 following a Canton punt, and quickly moved into Warrior territory as sophomore QB Mason Lister connected with junior Shayne Reid on a 12-yard completion, and junior Karter Rude on a 17-yard pick-up.
The drive bogged down after Lister could not handle a high shotgun snap, and the Wildcats were forced to punt.
Junior Caleb Nichols’ punt went out-of-bounds at the Canton 18, and the Warriors fumbled the ball away on their first play, giving the Wildcats the ball just 16 yards from paydirt.
The Canton defense, however, limited Athens to just three yards on three plays, forcing the Wildcats to attempt a field goal. Reid spilt the uprights from 30 yards out to give Athens a 3-0 lead with 6:23 remaining in the first quarter.
The rest of the first half was all Canton as they scored on their next three possessions, and added a defensive score on an odd play as time expired.
“Athens came out strong,” said Sechrist. “They were pretty tough the first series against the run, but I think we wore some of those big guys down a little bit. We just kept after them.
“I was happy with our two backs, and the way the (offensive) line came back answered,” he added.
“Canton definitely got some momentum off that stop,” said Young. “You would think the momentum would have been on our side at that point, but it wasn’t.
“From there on, it was just too many negatives,” added Young. “We missed on two scoring opportunities in the first half, and there were too many negatives. When the negatives outweigh the positives, it’s tough to compete.”
The Warriors answered Athens’ field goal with an eight-play, 58-yard scoring drive. The first seven plays featured the running of sophomores Hayden Ward and Riley Parker.
Parker ripped off 22 yards on three carries, and Ward added 16 yards on three carries. The drive culminated with a wide receiver screen to Joel Schoonover for a 22-yard TD with 1:56 remaining in the first quarter. Tyler Jannone’s PAT snuck over the crossbar to give Canton a 7-3 lead.
Jared Peterson returned the ensuing kickoff 30 yards to midfield, but the Warriors forced a punt after just three plays. Nichols’ punt bounced through the end zone, giving Canton the ball at its 20.
Runs of 20 yards by junior QB Cooper Kitchen, and 25 yards by Parker quickly moved the ball to the Wildcat 35. Five plays later, Kitchen connected with 6-5 tight end Ben Knapp on a 15-yard TD pass to make it 13-3 with 9:01 remaining in the first half.
Disaster struck for the Wildcats on the ensuing kickoff as Ward stripped the Athens returner of the ball, then recovered the fumble at the Wildcat 24.
Following a 12-yard run by Ward, Parker covered the final 12 yards on two carries, including an 8-yard TD jaunt with 7:38 remaining. Jannone’s point-after kick made it 20-3.
After an exchange of punts, Athens took over at its 17, and were quickly pinned back inside their 10 following a holding penalty.
Aided by a pair of Canton penalties that accounted for 25 yards, the Wildcats drove the length of the field. Runs of 18 and 10 yards by Lister, and completions from Lister to Rude for 10 and 12 yards were key in the drive.
With time running out, Lister attempted to scramble into the end zone, but he was hit at Canton 5-yard line as time expired. Trying to keep the play alive, Lister flipped the ball backward toward a teammate, but it found the turf, where Canton sophomore Weston Bellows scooped it up at the 17, and raced 83 yards for the score to make it 26-3 at the half.
“That was a huge change of events, it’s not something you usually see,” said Sechrist. “I thought (Athens) was going to score, (but) we end up scooping and scoring right before the half; that was a big part of the outcome.”
“Mason was just trying to make something happen, but those are mistakes we can’t make,” said Young. “It should have been 19-3, and we’re still in it.
“Two of their scores in the first half came off turnovers.,” noted Young. “You take those two away, and it’s a 12-3 game at the half.”
Athens took the second-half kickoff, and thanks to 35 rushing yard by Reid, who also caught a pair of passes for 15 yards, marched into the Canton red zone.
On fourth-and-6 at the Canton 13, Lister connected with 6-5 junior J.J. Babcock in the back of the end zone to cut the deficit to 26-9.
Moments after the ensuing kickoff, the Wildcats caught a big break when a backward pass bounced off the intended Warrior receiver’s shoulder pads, and Rude recovered it at the Canton 22. An unsportsmanlike conduct call against the Warriors moved the ball half-the-distance to the goal line.
Four plays later, Reid was stopped inches short of a first down at the Canton 1.
“Our defense hung in there a couple times,” said Sechrist.
“We got the stop after the turnover in the third quarter, and we held them to a field goal after a fumble early in the game,” he added. “Those were big, that’s what helps you win football games.”
“We thought we had the first down, but those are the breaks of the game,” said Young. “We’re still OK if we make a quick stop, but on third-and-long, they punch one out there on us, and that was kind of a back-breaker.”
The “back-breaker” was a 15-yard run by Parker on third-and-8 from the Warrior 3.
After a Canton punt, Athens moved the ball to the Warrior 33, but back-to-back sacks by junior Caiden Williams and senior Derek Atherton-Ely ended the threat.
Canton moved the ball into Athens territory, thanks in large part to 29 yards on three carries by Parker, but the Warriors threat ended with their third lost fumble in the contest.
Athens ensuing possession was short-lived as Knapp registered a QB sack, and Williams and freshman Mason Harold combined to haul Lister down behind the line-of-scrimmage to force a turnover on downs.
Parker put the finishing touches on the Warrior win with a 47-yard TD run with 3:23 remaining in the contest.
Lister was sacked six times in the fourth quarter, with senior Evan Landis and freshman Hudson Ward getting to him in the Wildcats’ final possession of the game.
Parker led the Warrior ground game with 176 yards and two TDs on 19 carries, while Hayden Ward added 50 yards on seven carries, and Kitchen chipped in with 25 yards on six carries. As a team, Canton rushed for 254 yards on 36 attempts.
Kitchen also completed 6 of 8 pass attempts for 46 yards and two TDs. Knapp led Canton with three receptions for 25 yards and one TD, and Schoonover had two grabs for 25 yards and one TD.
Reid led the Wildcats with 78 rushing yards on 17 carries, and seven receptions for 50 yards.
Lister completed 15 of 29 pass attempts for 121 yards and one TD. Rude had four catches for 40 yards, while sophomore Caleb Nichols had two grabs for 25 yards. Babcock had his 13-yard TD catch, and senior Ben Pernaselli had one reception for seven yards.
Athens, now 3-1, hosts South Williamsport Saturday night.
ATHENS — Athens coach Jack Young knew this had the makings of a trap game.
The contest had been moved from Friday to Saturday, then Saturday to Monday. It wasn’t until 9:30 a.m. Monday morning that they had confirmed they were going to play.
Still, his Athens team responded, making the most of five Towanda turnovers to roll to a 44-14 win in NTL football action Monday.
“We talked about taking care of opportunities when we have them, and trying to make opportunities for ourselves,” said Young. “At the same time, we still made some silly mistakes with formations and things like tha,t but I think we’re coming.
“We’re getting better and better and better and, when you play in these circumstances, and Towanda’s played some really solid defense,” added Young. “Once again, I think the line-of-scrimmage was real key for us tonight as it was against Wyalusing.”
The Wildcats dominated on the ground — rushing for 201 yards on 39 carries, led by Shayne Reid’s 108 yards and three touchdowns on 15 carries. But whoever touched the ball did things with it — Caleb Nichols ran for 35 yards on nine carries with a touchdown, and through the air Karter Rude had five catches for 98 yards.
“I’m super proud of the way they’re playing as a group,” said Young. “We’ve got a lot of kids we’re getting on the field and that makes me proud as a coach.”
Under center, Mason Lister was 7-for-17 for 122 yards, while also running for 36 yards and a score on seven carries. JJ Babcock had two catches for 24 yards.
After a flat start, Athens got going as the Knights had four turnovers in the first half, which gave them short fields, and the Wildcats took advantage of them. Then, in the second half they took care of business early to put the game away.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the kids,” said Young. “We came in a little bit early to do some walk-through stuff to make sure our minds were right; again, not a perfect game, but I’m real, real proud of the way we’re playing as a team.”
The Wildcats were flagged 11 times for 55 yards, but didn’t turn the ball over once.
For Towanda, Rhyan West ran for 84 yards on 14 carries with a score while Mitchell Mosier was 5-for-15 for 58 yards with a touchdown and two picks.
Haven Benjamin-Fee had two catches for 42 yards, while Justin Schoonover caught two passes for 10 yards and a touchdown. Trent Kithcart ran eight times for 24 yards, and also caught a 3-yard pass.
The Black Knights took the opening kick-off and seemed to be in business, thanks to an 8-yard run by Benjamin-Fee on second down. A 3-yard rush by Mosier gave them a new set of downs near midfield.
However, Athens bogged down the Towanda offense, holding them to short gains and forcing a punt.
On Athens’ ensuing drive, Lister hit Rude for an 11-yard gain and a new set of downs, but the Towanda defense held, forcing the Wildcats to punt.
Towanda’s second possession began with a 10-yard run by Kithcart to get out to its own 30-yard line. However, two plays later, a Mosier pass was picked off by Jaden Wright, giving Athens the ball back inside the Towanda 40-yard line.
A first-down hold pushed the Wildcats back to midfield, but an 11-yard run by Nichols got the yardage back. An 8-yard pass play of Lister-to-Rude set up third-and-short. Towanda held on third dow,n but Athens’ Reid punched through the line for a new set of downs on fourth down, rumbling to the Towanda 22-yard line.
He followed that up with a 15-yard run inside the 10-yard line. Two plays later, Lister rolled out left and dove just inside the pylon for the touchdown, finishing off the 49-yard, 7-play scoring drive.
Reid added the point-after for the 7-0 lead with 1:07 left in the first quarter.
On Towanda’s ensuing drive, back-to-back runs by West and Mosier set up third-and-short, but Athens broke through the line and forced Kithcart to fumble the ball. It was scooped up by the Wildcats, and they set up shot at Towanda’s own 31-yard line.
Once again the drive start with a penalty — this one illegal procedure, but an 11-yard run by Lister got the yardage back. Two shorts runs by Nichols and Lister got them a new set of downs.
A false start backed them up again, but Lister hit Babcock with a 7-yard pass play to get inside the Towanda red zone.
Two plays later, on 3rd-and-6 Reid rumbled for 10 yards to set up a first-and-goal at the Knight 6-yard line. Three plays later, on 3rd-and-1, Reid punched it in for the touchdown to end the 36-yard, 9-play scoring drive. He added the point-after for the 14-0 lead with 8:40 left in the half.
Towanda’s ensuing drive ended with another turnover, as on third down they fumbled the ball back to Athens.
The Wildcats took over at Towanda’s 37-yard line, but the Knights continued to play stingy defense. After a first-down incompletion, Towanda held Reid to short gains on the next two downs to set up a 4th-and-2 at the 20-yard line.
Athens went back to Reid, who punched through for a 5-yard gain and a new set of downs. Towanda’s defense held up, though, forcing Athens two two more short runs and an incompletion. On 4th-and-5 from the Towanda 7-yard line the Wildcats elected for a field goal and Reid hit the 24-yarder to make it 17-0 with 3:50 left in the half.
On the ensuing kick-off, Towanda fumbled again and Athens recovered at the Knight 22-yard line.
It would take them two plays to find pay dirt — a 21-yard pass play from Lister to Rude, followed by a Reid 1-yard plunge. Athens tried a fake PAT on the point-after attempt, but it was no good. Still, they led 23-7 with 3:13 let in the first half.
The ensuing Knight possession started promising as West broke four Athens tackles at the line-of-scrimmage as he rumbled 29 yards down the left side of the field. However, a short gain and two incompletions later and Towanda was punting again.
Athens took over at their 38-yard line, but struggled as well. They would turn it over on downs as lister went 0-for-3 on the drive.
With 1:06 left on the clock and starting at the Athens 45-yard line Towanda wouldn’t get a better chance to put points up on the scoreboard.
They took it, as on second down Mosier hit Benjamin-Fee on a crossing pattern. He out ran most of the Athens defense with Reid saving a touchdown as he tackled Benjamin-Fee at the 4-yard line.
The Wildcat defense would catch Towanda for a 3-yard loss on the next play, while Mosier’s second-down pass to Kithcart was well defended by the official, who inadvertently blocked Kithcart from making the catch.
However, on the next play Towanda finally got a good bounce as Mosier’s pass intended for Kithcart was deflected into the air, but came down into the hands of Justin Schoonover.
The 4-yard completion was the Knights’ first score of the season and, after Logan Lambert’s point after, Towanda cut it to 23-7 with 21 seconds left in the half. It was a 45-yard, 5-play scoring drive.
Athens came out strong in the second half, taking the ensuing kickoff and going 74 yards on seven plays to paydirt. A pitch two Reid on the first play netted 32 yards to get to midfield. An 11-yard Lister run followed, with Nichols then rumbling six yards for a new set of downs at the Towanda 30-yard line.
Lister then hit Rude for a 15-yard pass play. That was followed by back-to-back 6-yard runs to set up first-and-goal at the 3-yard line. Reid punched it in and, after Reid’s point-after, Athens led 30-7 with 8:32 left in the third quarter.
On Towanda’s ensuing drive Mosier did a good job keeping it alive, running for 8-yards on 3rd-and-1, but on the next play he was picked off by Nichols, who returned it to the Towanda 5-yard line.
Back-to-back Nichols runs got Athens to the end zone. Reid hit the point-after and the Wildcats now led 37-7 with 5:38 left in the third.
Towanda’s next drive began with two strong runs by West and Kithcart, which ended in a new set of downs at their own 41-yard line, but it stalled out there and the Knights were forced to punt.
Penalties killed Athens’ ensuing drive as a block-in-the-back and delay of game set up a 3rd-and-19. Lister hit Babcock for a 17-yard gain, which set up 4th-and-2.
On the fourth-down run by Nichols, though, Towanda’s Clay Watkins made a big stop at the line-of-scrimmage and forced a turnover on downs.
A 9-yard run on second down by West got Towanda across midfield, but back-to-back negative runs by the Knights forced a turnover on downs on them.
Athens took over at their own 44 yard line and, on the second play from scrimmage, Lister hit Rude for a 43-yard gain down to the Towanda 11-yard line.
Three plays later, on 3rd-and-3 from the 4, Athens’ Jared Peterson punched it in for their final touchdown of the night. Reid added the point-after and the Wildcats led 44-7, after the 56-yard, 5-play drive with 10:04 left in the game.
Towanda had one final drive left in them and, starting on their own 30-yard line, took nine plays to go the 70 yards to pay dirt.
Runs of 13 and 15 yards by West set up Towanda inside the Athens 40-yard line. A Kithcart 7-yard run on second down made it 3rd-and-5. Mosier would hit Schoonover for a 4-yard gain, making it 4th-and a long 1.
Mosier drew the Athens defense offsides, giving them a new set of downs at the 23-yard line. After an incompletion on first down, a bad snapped on second looked like a busted play, but West made something of it, picking up the rolling ball and darting his way through the Wildcat defense for a 23-yard touchdown run.
Lambert hit the point-after and it was now a 44-14 game, which is how it would end.
Athens’ NTL ‘North’ schedule is done — they get a bye this week, then host South Williamsport the following Friday. But, if this season has shown anything, it’s that tomorrow isn’t certain.
WYALUSING — This was the game Athens coach Jack Young was waiting for,
and his team’s 21-14 victory over Wyalusing Friday night was worth the
It was a complete Wildcat effort as they dominated the line-of-scrimmage, put together long drives and held a Wyalusing offense to half the yardage it put up in its win last week against CV.
“It’s huge, absolutely huge,” Athens quarterback Mason Lister said about getting the win. “A great game that came down to the wire — it was a little closer than I wanted it to be, but we made it work.”
The big improvement for Athens came up front as Athens won the battle in the trenches.
“Those guys played really well on both sides of the ball,” said Young. “Our line was much improved tonight because they feel like they didn’t play a real good game against Sayre.”
Young mentioned his seniors — Lucas Aquilio, Connor Sindoni, Ian Wright, Zac Gowin and Ben Pernaselli — as the key to their play this week. They outgained the Rams 165-121 on the ground and, at one point in the second half, held the ball for more than 10 minutes.
“We told them coming in ‘you guys are the key,’” Young said. “As many athletes as we are getting involved in the game on both sides, the key is still the line-of-scrimmage.”
ATHENS — Hobbled by leg cramps for most of the second half, junior
Shayne Reid split the uprights on a 27-yard field goal late in the
fourth quarter to lift Athens to a 10-7 win over Sayre here at Alumni
Stadium Friday night in the annual Rusty Rail rivalry game.
The kick was Reid’s first career field goal.
“It feels amazing. All I was thinking about was getting it through the two poles,” he said. “Everything — the snap and the hold — was perfect.”
“Shayne (Reid) could barely walk,” said Athens coach Jack Young. “We carried him out onto the field, and he kicked the game-winner — they write stories about that kind of stuff.”
The win snaps Sayre’s two-year hold on the Rusty Rail trophy.
“It feels insane,” said Reid. “We all worked very hard for this. We worked all summer, and we came and got it.”
Young was pleased to bring the Rusty Rail back to Athens.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “As ugly as this game was, it really is what rivalry games are all about — battling back-and-forth and scrapping.
“I’m super-happy for the kids, it’s been a long three weeks,” noted Young. “I could not be prouder of our effort, and with how the kids hung in there.”
And ugly it was.
Athens was penalized 11 times for 115 yards, and committed three turnovers, while Sayre was flagged eight times for 50 yards, and also turned the ball over three times.
“We probably led the state tonight in penalties,” said Young. “Some of them were foolish, and they have to be corrected.”
“We gave the game away,” said Sayre coach Kevin Gorman. “We shot ourselves in the foot constantly with turnovers and penalties.
“Overall, I thought we played well offensively and defensively, but when it’s crunch time, we can’t fumble,” added Gorman.
The Wildcats used a big play on the opening kickoff to get a little early momentum as Reid reeled off a 30-yard return to the Sayre 49.
Sophomore QB Mason Lister completed three consecutive passes for 25 yards, including a 15-yard catch-and-run to Reid to move the ball to the Redskin 24.
Five plays later, Sayre senior Matt Lane stripped Reid of the ball after a 7-yard gain at the Redskin 5.
“We put together a nice drive and then turned it over in the red zone,” said Young. “We have to get better in that area … we have to eliminate those kinds of mistakes.”
“We coach that, when we’re gang-tackling, guys get in there and start ripping at the ball,” said Gorman. “It was a big play — a big turnover down deep.
“Kudos to (Athens), they came out throwing the ball,” added Gorman. “I knew they could do it, but I didn’t expect it. Our guys needed a little time to adjust, but once they did, they played well.”
On Sayre’s second play, junior David Northrop ripped off a 12-yard run, then junior Jake Bennett followed with runs of 8 and 13 yards to move the ball to the Sayre 37.
However, a pair of penalties bogged down the Redskin drive, and they were forced to punt. Disaster struck when the snap sailed over sophomore Lucas Horton’s head, and the Wildcats took possession after a 27-yard loss by the Redskins at the Sayre 11.
An offensive pass interference call against the Wildcats on their first play of the possession moved the ball back to the Sayre 26, but two plays later Lister rolled right under pressure and found Reid open in the back of the end zone for a 25-yard TD pass with 3:49 remaining in the first quarter.
Reid tacked on the extra point to give Athens a 7-0 lead.
After an exchange of possessions, Sayre used its ground game in a 12-play, 44-yard march to the Wildcat 15, before turning the ball over on downs with 5:12 remaining in the first half.
Athens picked up a pair of first downs, but fumbled the ball away, and the Redskins took over at the Wildcat 39 with 2:12 remaining in the first half.
A nine-yard run by Bennett, and a 15-yard run by Horton quickly advanced the ball into the red zone at the Athens 15.
The Redskins moved the ball to the Athens 3, but twice were flagged for illegal procedure, and ended up running out of time with the ball at the 3.
At the end of the half, Sayre had two opportunities, and we made plays — that’s what rivalry games are all about,” said Young.
“We didn’t give up any big plays tonight, and that was one of our goals.
“When teams put together a few first downs on you, it becomes a matter of digging deep and making a play, and we did that all night long,” added Young.
“We had our chances, especially late in the first half,” said Gorman. “We can’t make those kinds of mistakes when we’re on the doorstep like that.”
The second half started exactly as the first half did, except it was a 22-yard kick return by Northrop that set the Redskins up at the Athens 49.
After one first down, Sayre was forced to punt. Reid mishandled Horton’s punt, but recovered the muff at the Wildcat 9.
Five plays later, the Wildcats fumbled the ball away at their own 19.
The Redskins needed just one play — a 19-yard scamper around left end by Northrop — to find paydirt. Senior Nic Bentley’s PAT kick tied the game at 7-7 with 7:14 remaining in the third quarter.
After an exchange of punts, Athens sophomore Caleb Nichols stepped in front of a Horton pass and returned it 15 yards to the Sayre 26.
The Redskin defense, however, forced a quick turnover on downs, and gave the ball back to the Sayre offense at its 23.
After another exchange of punts, the Redskins took over at their own 10.
Two plays after runs of 13 and 8 yards by Northrop, Athens senior Tanner Dildine pounced on a botched Redskin hand-off to give the Wildcats possession at the 38.
Lister completed passes of 5 yards to sophomore Karter Rude, and 9 yards to Dildine to move the ball to the Sayre 24, and Reid then ripped off an 11-yard run — his longest of the game — to the Redskin 13.
After two rushing attempts and incomplete pass moved the ball just three yards to the Sayre 10, Reid lined up and delivered the game-winning 27-yard field goal with 2:17 remaining in the contest.
On the ensuing kickoff, Northrop broke free and galloped to the Wildcat 47, but a block-in-the-back flag brought the ball back to the Redskin 20.
Sayre moved the ball to the Athens 45 in short order, thanks in large part to a 32-yard completion from Horton to senior Tavone McClenny, but Athens senior defensive end Ben Pernaselli stripped Horton of the ball in the backfield moments later, and Dildine recovered with 42 seconds left to effectively end the game.
Lister completed 16 of 25 pass attempts for 160 yards and one TD. Rude led the Wildcat receivers with seven catches for 86 yards, and Reid added three receptions for 45 yards and one TD.
Athens rushed for just 58 yards on 27 carries, with Reid’s 33 yards on seven carries leading the way.
The Redskins rushed for 178 yards on 32 carries. Northrop led the way with 95 yards on 15 carries, and Bennett added 84 yards on 14 carries.
Horton completed 4 of 14 pass attempts for 47 yards, and was intercepted once. Josh Arnold had two grabs for nine yards, and McClenny had one catch for 32 yards.
The Wildcats return to action Friday at Canton, while the Redskins are off until Sept. 25 when they host Cowanesque Valley.
ATHENS — For the first time since 1980, Athens and Sayre will open the
season against each other here Friday night at Alumni Stadium.
“I know they talked about playing the rivalry games early in the season to make sure we’d play these games, but I don’t think anyone anticipated Week 1,” said Athens coach Jack Young. “At the same time, our kids would be happy, and I think the Sayre kids would be happy, if we played five weeks in a row — why not?
“It’s been one of those years. When our kids first heard, they thought we were scrimmaging Sayre, so we had to set them straight and get them focused,” added Young. “It’s exciting. Our seniors have set the tone, and said ‘there’s no better way to get it going than opening up with Sayre.”
“It's going to be interesting,” said Sayre coach Kevin Gorman. “The (Rusty Rail) game at the end of the year is always something the players look forward to, but with the uncertainty of everything I understand why it's week one.
“I was hoping for a week 2 or 3 game to give us a game or two to get all the mistakes out of the way, but I'm just looking forward to the season and the game,” added Gorman. “And, the players are excited to play and even more excited for the Rusty Rail week one.”
Both coaches agree playing in the season-opener has kept their players focused.
“The kids probably would have practice all day (Monday) if we had let them because it’s Sayre week,” said Young. “They’ve been focused and motivated.”
“It’s definitely helped,” said Gorman. “The high schools only being a minute away from each other, the kids all know each other.
“We had a good camp, and I think the kids are pretty focused,” he added.
This is the 120th edition of the Athens-Sayre rivalry, with the Redskins leading the all-time series 61-48-10.
It’s the 21st Rusty Rail game. Athens leads the series 17-3, but Sayre has won the last two games, including a 21-14 win last year at the Lockhart Street Bowl, following on the heels of a 17-game win streak by the Wildcats.
Gorman said his team is not obsessing over its two-game win streak.
“I don’t think the kids are concerned with a win streak, they just know the Rusty Rail is on the line, and we need to get the trophy back to Sayre,” he said. “I think that’s the approach during the week.
“I don’t like to push the Rusty Rail on them. I just want s to go out there and play our game, and, hopefully, come home with a win,” added Gorman.
While Athens’ 17-game win streak is the longest in the rivalry, Sayre has twice put together 10-game win streaks against Athens. The first was from 1922-26 when the two schools played twice a year, and from 1933-40, which also included a few years with two games.
Athens won first game in series 14-0 in 1915, but Sayre won second game, 13-9, in 1917. Sayre followed it up with wins of 21-0 and 13-0 in 1920.
The two schools played at least once every year through 1936. After two years off, they renewed the rivalry in 1939 and have played every year since, aside from 1965 through 1968, when the rivalry was put on hiatus due to incidents of school vandalism.
The Redskins are coming off an 8-3 season, which ended with a 26-20 home loss to Muncy in the District 4, Class A semifinals.
The Wildcats were 1-10 in 2019, including back-to-back season-ending losses to Sayre and Waverly.
Both coaches believe Friday’s game boils down to one simple thing.
“If you control the line-of-scrimmage on either side of the ball, you’re more than likely winning the game,” said Gorman.
“We’ve talked about it all week, winning the battle on the line-of-scrimmage is huge,” said Young.
WHEN ATHENS HAS THE BALL
“They have a big offensive line, so I expect to see a healthy dose of Shayne Reid, who is a good back,” said Gorman. “He hurt us quite a bit last year. When you watch films from last year, you see he hurt a lot of teams.
“They have (J.J.) Babcock on the outside, and Mason Lister can throw it around a little bit,” noted Gorman. “They may get in shotgun, and throw it around to get the ball to some of their athletes.
“I expect the run game first, then for them to drop back and try to catch us napping with a pass over the top, or something quick,” added Gorman.
WHEN SAYRE IS ON DEFENSE
“They do a great job of covering the field,” said Young. “We think we see something, and they adjust quickly. Kevin (Gorman) does a nice job of getting their kids disciplined defensively.
“They play well as a unit defensively,” added Young. “We have to be patient offensively. We have to see what we can take, then take advantage of it and produce.”
WHEN SAYRE HAS THE BALL
”I don’t think they’re going to be any different than the Sayre teams we’ve seen the last couple of years,” said Young. “They are going to formation us, they’re going to spread the field, wanting to run the ball, and chuck it downfield.”
WHEN ATHENS IS ON DEFENSE
“They run the 4-3, and they run it well — they know what they’re doing,” said Gorman. “They do run man, and might mix in a little Cover-3.
“Their defensive line is big,” noted Gorman. “The key point for us, with our experienced offensive line, is to control the front to keep Lucas (Horton) clean when we’re passing, and to open run lanes for our backs — that definitely will be a big factor for us.
“With it being the first game, they could have been working on something different offensively or defensively for the whole camp, or summer, and all of the sudden they give us a new look, but I expect the 4-3,” added Gorman.
WAVERLY - River Road Media Group, parent company of Valley Sports Report, and Circle W Sports announced a partnership Sunday with the Athens Area School District to provide an athletic web site for all Wildcat sports.