October 28, 2022 Tim Birney

ATHENS — Tioga scored on its first three possession of the game en route to a 29-13 win over Athens here Friday night in non-league football action at Alumni Stadium.

The game marked the first meeting between the two schools separated by just 14 miles.

“We had a good week of practice,” said Tioga coach Nick Aiello. “Once we knew we were playing Athens, I think the kids locked in. I’m sure Athens was the same way.

“We’ve never played before, but I guess you’d call it a rivalry, or a ‘Border Brawl,’” noted Aiello. “The kids were definitely focused, and wanted to come in here and put a good game together.

“We treated this week like a playoff game,” he added. “In the end, it was a great week. I’m glad we could come down here, and I really appreciate Athens hosting us.”

In a normal year, Athens would have hosted Sayre in the “Rusty Rail” rivalry game, but Sayre folded its varsity program in mid-August.

“We didn’t want a week off, and the kids deserve to play,” said Athens coach Jack Young. “How fortunate was it for this game to happen?

“For 10 weeks, I’ve called multiple states, and all across Pennsylvania trying to get us a game, and was unsuccessful,” he noted. “We left here Monday thinking we were going to have Tuesday off, so it was exciting to have this game come together.

“It was a little stressful Tuesday and Wednesday trying to put game plans together,” added Young. “I just wish we could have been better tonight. I think this could have been a barn-burner. We just weren’t good enough to make it one.”

With both teams heading into the playoffs next week, neither coach wanted a week off.

“Playing this game is huge,” said Aiello. “I didn’t know until Monday at 7 p.m. (that Deposit-Hancock was canceling) … to be able to pick up this game it really set our focus.

“Going into the playoffs next week, I thought this was the exact game we needed,” he noted. “We needed to be focused, which we were. We needed to come out and do some really good things, which we did.

“It’s a great springboard into next week when we start playoffs, and you have to be 1-0 every week,” added Aiello.

“We definitely didn’t want a week off heading into the postseason,” said Young.

Tioga took the opening kickoff, and marched 69 yards (although they covered 74 yards after a penalty prior to the first snap) on nine plays in a drive that consumed nearly five minutes.

Junior QB Caden Bellis connected with junior tight end Karson Sindoni for an 11-yard completion on Tioga’s first play, then a pair of short runs gave the Tigers their initial first down of the game.

Bellis added runs of 11 and 8 yards on QB keepers as the Tigers moved into Athens territory.

The big play in the drive was a 34-yard pass from Bellis to junior Valentino Rossi that moved the ball to the Athens 2.

Junior Drew Macumber plowed into the end zone on the next play. Junior Gavin Fisher’s PAT kick made it 7-0 with 7:08 remaining in the first quarter.

Athens’ opening possession of the game ended in a three-and-out, and the Tigers took over at its 16 following a 46-yard punt by senior Lucas Horton.

On third and seven, Bellis hooked up with junior Evan Sickler for a 7-yard gain. Athens was also assessed a pair of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties that moved the ball to the Wildcat 46.

After another 7-yard pass to Sickler, Tioga went to the ground and picked up 25 yards on five carries to the Athens 14. Macumber chewed up 23 yards on four carries in that stretch.

After a 9-yard pass from Bellis to Duncanson, Macumber picked up 4 yards to the Wildcat 1 on the final play of the first quarter.

On the first play of the second quarter, Macumber bulled his way into the end zone to make it 13-0 with 11:56 remaining in the first half. After Athens jumped offsides on Tioga’s PAT attempt, the Tigers chose to go for two, and Macumber ran it in to make it 15-0.

The Tigers were penalized after their TD run, and the ensuing kickoff was from their 20. Horton fielded the kick at his 25, and returned it 28 yards to the Tioga 47.

Senior QB Mason Lister connected with sophomore wideout Xavier Watson for a 13-yard gain on the first play of the drive, and senior tailback Caleb Nichols followed with a 9-yard run.

On third-and-1, Tioga batted down a pass, but was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after the play to move the ball to the 13-yard line.

Nichols covered the final 13 yards on three carries, capping the eight-play drive with a 5-yard TD run with 9:33 remaining in the half. Lister’s PAT kick closed the gap to 15-7.

Rossi quickly erased any momentum the Wildcats had with a 58-yard return of the ensuing kickoff to the Athens 27.

Duncanson opened the drive with a 12-yard run, and three plays later, Bellis scored on a 4-yard run with 7:28 remaining in the half. Fisher’s PAT kick made it 22-7.

Athens went to its short passing game on its next possession, overcoming a sack of Lister by Tioga junior Trent Browne, thanks to a 4-for-4 effort by Lister, moving the ball to the Tioga 27.

The drive stalled there as Sindoni and Duncanson combined on a QB sack for a 10-yard loss to move the ball back to the 37.

After an incompletion and a penalty for a false start, Athens faced a third-and-25 at the Tioga 42. Sindoni and Duncanson once again got to Lister for a 1-yard loss.

Athens punted to end a possession that chewed up 7 minutes off the game clock, but came up empty.

The Wildcats, who won the pre-game coin toss and deferred, quickly drove the second-half kickoff from its 35 to the Tioga 13.

Lister was 4-for-4, completing back-to-back passes of 8 yards to senior Matt Machmer, a 12-yarder to junior Josh Martin, and a 21-yarder to Nichols.

After back-to-back incompletions, Nichols was stuffed for no game to force Athens into a fourth-and-10. Lister’s fourth-down pass was picked off in the back corner of the end zone by Rossi.

Tioga moved the ball to midfield, but gave Athens life with a fumble that Lister pounced on at the Tioga 49.

Two plays later, the Wildcats were in the end zone.

After a 33-yard scramble by Lister, he completed a quick slant to Martin for a 16-yard TD with 2:26 remaining in the third quarter. The PAT kick was blocked, and Tioga’s lead was 21-13.

On the first play following the ensuing kickoff, Martin stepped in front of a Bellis pass to give the Wildcats the ball at the Tioga 35.

On fourth-and-3 at the Tioga 28, Lister found Watson for a 5-yard gain to the 23 on the final play of the third quarter.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, Lister, after being flushed out of the pocket was hit by Duncanson and sophomore Brennan Sindoni. Attempting to get rid of the ball, Lister, as he was being driven to the ground, unleashed a pass that went backwards and resulted in a 16-yard loss.

Two plays later, Lister’s 19-yard pass to Martin for an apparent first down, was nullified by a holding call downfield, leaving Athens in a third-and-15 situation.

After a 9-yard pass to Horton, Lister was again flushed out of the pocket, but this time Duncanson finished off the sack for a 13-yard loss.

The Tigers needed just three plays — all on the ground — to cover 67 yards. After a 15-yard run by Macumber, Duncanson ripped off a 34-yard run up the middle. Macumber finished off the drive with a 16-yard TD run with 9:02 remaining. Fisher’s PAT kick made it 29-13.

The Wildcats put themselves in a hole on their next possession with a holding call on first down that resulted in a first-and-27. Three plays later, they punted. Athens was penalized eight times for 85 yards.

Tioga took over with 6:20 remaining, and with the aid of a pair of first downs was able to run nearly five minutes off the game clock.

Athens’ final possession ended on downs after four plays, and Tioga took a knee to run out the clock.

“The message all week was ‘we have to play Tioga football, come in here and do what we do,’” said Aiello.

“I told the guys, ‘you might not be the biggest team out there, or even the most talented, but you have to do the little things right, and you have to execute on offense, and play great defense.’

“I’m very proud of the boys,” added Aiello. “They had a very good week of practice, and it showed tonight.”

“I think we played out of character tonight,” said Young.

“When you play an opponent like (Tioga), you have to be better than we were,” he noted. “They are a well-greased machine, and it’s obvious why they’re successful.

“We shot ourselves in the foot, we went backward too many times offensively, and, especially in the first half, our physicality wasn’t there at the line-of-scrimmage on either side of the ball.

“All year long the penalties have killed us … every time we got ahead of the sticks, it seems there was a penalty or a sack, and we were back behind them.

“We did some things that were positive and productive, but against a team like that we have to be much better than we were,” added Young. “Again, hats off to them. They did the little things that had to be done.”

Tioga had 295 yards in total offense, while Athens totaled 193, including just 31 on the ground.

Macumber led the Tigers with 106 yards and three TDs on 20 carries, while Duncanson ran for 57 yards and one TD on seven carries, and Bellis added 29 yards and one TD on seven carries. In all, Tioga had 207 yards on 41 carries.

Bellis completed 5 of 9 passes for 68 yards, and was intercepted once. Rossi led Tioga with two catches for 41 yards.

Lister completed 21 of 32 passes for 162 yards, one TD, and one interception.

Machmer led Athens with seven receptions for 41 yards, and one TD, while Horton had five catches for 38 yards, Watson added four grabs for 35 yards, and Martin had three catches for 47 yards.

Nichols led Athens with 42 yards and one TD on 11 carries.

Tioga — now 9-0, winners of 22 straight, and ranked No. 1 in Class D in New York State — takes on SVEC Saturday at 4 p.m. in the Section IV, Class B semifinals.

Unofficially, Athens, now 6-4, will host Montoursville (4-6) Saturday, at a time to be announced, in the semifinals of the District 4, Class 3A playoffs.

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October 21, 2022 Tim Birney


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October 14, 2022 Chris Manning

CANTON — Athens didn’t come away with a win, but the Wildcats did show that, for three quarters, they could play with a state-ranked team during their 21-0 loss to Canton on Friday.

The Warriors blitzed the Wildcats for three touchdowns on their first three drives, but Athens’ defense stiffened, keeping Canton out of the end zone from that point on.

Offensively, Athens had its moments — including a 25-yard Mason Lister to Xavier Watson reception — and their opportunities — twice inside the Canton red zone in the second quarter, but weren’t able to capitalize on them for points.

“It’s tough playing these guys, they’re really, really good,” said Athens coach Jack Young. “I think we might have played a little like deer in the headlights in the first quarter. And then we woke up, and our defense played really phenomenal.”

The Wildcats kept Canton out of the end zone on its final seven drives of the night, though the Warriors did run for 318 yards.

“I’m proud of our guys’ fight, but there’s no moral victories here,” said Young. “I’m just glad we showed up and fought, and this was as physical of a second half of football as I’ve seen in a long time. If we can take the positives, and learn from the negatives, we will be better next week.”

In the second half, Athens held Canton to 116 yards of total offense, and sent them backwards on six plays, including three straight at one point.

“I think we’re better than what we believe we are,” Young said, noting his team started to believe in that second-quarter turnaround.

Offensively, though, they only produced two first downs outside the second quarter — one in the entire second half — and he knows they have to get better at protecting Lister in the backfield.

“We have to handle that pressure better,” said Young.

The Wildcats finished with just 80 yards of total offense, 16 of which came on the ground. Lister was 15-for-21 for 64 yards, and his top two targets were Luke Horton (seven catches, 19 yards) and Xavier Watson (two catches, 36 yards).

Caleb Nichols had 23 yards rushing on 13 carries, while Kolsen Keathley finished with 17 yards on three touches.

Canton saw two backs go over 100 yards -—Riley Parker (19 carries, 152 yards, one touchdown) and Weston Bellows (10 carries, 112 yards, one touchdown), while Holden Ward ran for 33 yards on eight carries as he took the lion’s share of snaps at QB.

Canton attempted just five passes, going 3-for-5, with Michael Davis’ 38-yard completion to Hudson Ward the highlight of the night.

Penalties also hurt the Warriors, who were flagged 11 times for 80 yards.

Canton took the opening kick-off and marched down the field, going 65 yards on seven plays — all runs — to paydirt. Parker’s 2-yard punch got them in the end zone, but the key play was a 30-yard run from Holden Ward, followed by a 17-yard run from Parker to get them inside the Athens 25-yard line.

Bailey Ferguson added the point after to make it 7-0 just 2:30 into the contest.

Athens’ first possession ended in a 3-and-out, with Canton taking over at their own 37-yard line. This time it was just three plays to paydirt, as Bellows ran untouched up the middle 59 yards to the end zone.

Ferguson’s kick was good, and Canton led 14-0 with 6:49 on left in the first quarter.

After another Athens punt, Canton took over at its own 38-yard line. The Warriors went into their bag of tricks, pulling out a halfback pass from Davis to Hudson Ward for 38 yards down to the Athens 24-yard line.

From there, they used six runs to get into the end zone, with Allen sneaking it in from one yard out on 4th-and-goal for their third touchdown of the quarter. Ferguson’s kick was good, and it was 21-0 with 1:27 left to play in the first.

Athens’ offense found some life in the ensuing drive, getting down to the Canton 26-yard line when Lister hit Watson for the 25-yard hook up.

However, the drive would stall, and Canton would force Athens to turn it over on downs, taking over at its 19-yard line.

This time, though, it was the Wildcats making something happen on defense, recovering a fumble on the initial play of the drive to take over at the Canton 27-yard line.

A roughing-the-passer call on fourth down would put the Wildcats inside the Canton 15-yard line. However, a Hayden Ward sack on second down pushed them back to the 20.

On fourth down, Lister got Horton 1-on-1 in the end zone, and for a moment Horton had the ball in his hands, but Allen reached up through and punched it away for another defensive stop.

Both teams then ended the half with empty drives.

It was a defensive struggle in the second half — Canton had just 116 yards of total offense, Athens had 25.

Eventually, the Warriors used a big dose of Parker to run out the clock, as he finished with 105 yards rushing on 12 carries in final two quarters.

Athens (5-3) will host Central Columbia next week as they try to catch Montoursville in the District IV standings to have a home game in the first round of the Class AAA playoffs.

“We’re too good to be shutout, even against a really good team like Canton,” Young said. “We just got to be better.”

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October 7, 2022 Tim Birney

MANSFIELD — Sophomore Kolsen Keathley touched the ball four times, and rushed for four TDs, including runs of 75 and 61 yards, to lead Athens to a 55-0 win over North Penn-Mansfield here Friday night in NTL Large School Division football action.

Keathley rushed for 156 yards, and also had TD runs of 18 and 2 yards, while senior tailback Caleb Nichols rushed for 38 yards and one TD on 10 carries, and had one reception for 70 yards in a night of big plays for the Wildcats.

Athens got on the board early on a 23-yard TD pass from senior QB Mason Lister to junior Josh Martin. Lister’s PAT kick made it 7-0.

Keathley’s first TD run of 2 yards made it 13-0 at the end of the first quarter.

Keathley broke loose on a 75-yard TD run on Athens’ next possession, and Lister’s PAT boot made if 20-0.

Athens cashed in on a North Penn-Mansfield with a short scoring drive, capped by a Nichols 5-yard TD run, to make it 27-0.

Lister and senior Lucas Horton hooked up on a 71-yard TD pass with 4 minutes remaining in the half to extend the lead to 34-0.

Keathley tacked on an 18-yard TD run in the final minute of the first half to make it 41-0.

Keathley added a 61-yard TD run in the third quarter, and freshman Cooper Robinson scored his first varsity TD with a 15-yard run in the fourth quarter. Lister, who made seven of eight PAT kicks in the game, tacked on the final point of the contest for the Wildcats.

Athens amassed 519 yards in total offense — 278 through the air, and 241 on the ground.

Lister completed 9 of 13 passes for 242 yards and two TDs, and Horton completed his only throw for 36 yards.

Martin led Athens with four receptions for 41 yards and one TD, while Horton had two catches for 79 yards and one TD, and senior Matt Machmer had two grabs for 65 yards.

Robinson added 42 rushing yards and on TD on eight carries for the Wildcats.

NP-M had 133 yards in total offense, including 39 rushing yards on 19 carries.

Defensively, Nichols had two interceptions, and Martin had one for the Wildcats.

Athens, now 5-2, is on the road at unbeaten Canton Friday.

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October 3, 2022 Tim Birney

ATHENS — Athens senior Mason Lister has used a mixture of talent and toughness to start at quarterback in 35 straight games, and now stands as the program’s all-time passing yardage leader with 4,618 yards.

“I’m super-proud of him, there are times in his four-year career where he’s taken a beating,” said Athens coach Jack Young. “Other than a few timeouts and a couple missed plays, in four years that kid has showed a ton of toughness and hasn’t missed a game.”

Lister was sacked 24 times during his freshman season (2019), but still completed 53.2 percent (82 of 154) of his passes for 1,182 yards and 11 TDs. He was picked off nine times.

During the Covid season, Lister completed 59 percent (62 of 105) of his attempts for 938 yards, four TDs, and three interceptions.

Last year, he completed 62 percent (108 of 174) of his throws for 1,560 yards and 16 TDs, while being picked off five times.

This year, Lister is completing 59.8 percent (67 of 112) for 938 yards and 12 TDs, while being intercepted six times.

Overall, he has completed 58.5 percent (319 of 545) of his passes for 4,618 yards and 43 TDs, while being intercepted 23 times. He also has 16 rushing TDs.

Lister broke the previous record of 4,339 yards, held by Shane Raupers, during Athens’ 32-7 loss to Troy on Sept. 23.

“Mason’s progression has been rock solid,” said Young. “In an ideal world, he’s going to have a top-notch offensive line in front of him, but we don’t live in an ideal world.

“Mason has gotten better … he’s made some mistakes over his four years, but what I’m proud of he’s gotten better at taking care of the ball — and that’s the bottom line; that’s probably the thing I’m most proud of Mason for.

“We preach on three things, and two of those are turnovers and big plays,” noted Young. “He’s gotten better at taking care of the football and has made a lot of big plays.”

Another strength, says Young, is getting the ball to guy who’s open, and not forcing throws.

“We have six guys we’re throwing the ball to, and they are six pretty talented guys.

“Mason is starting to realize it doesn’t matter who he goes to, he has guys who are going to make plays,” said Young. “He’s getting better all the time in seeing that he doesn’t have to force the ball to someone because he has other guys who can make plays.”

Not only has Lister had to overcome a constant string of pass-rushers, he’s had to overcome his coach’s self-admitted preference to run the football.

“I’m not a big stats guy … coming from the school I come from, when you throw the ball only three things can happen, and two are negative,” laughed Young.

“My philosophy is if we can complete 70 percent of our passes, then it’s worth throwing the ball,” he noted. “Mason is around the 60-percent mark for his career.

“The common thread during his career for opposing teams is ‘bring pressure,’” added Young. “We haven’t handled that pressure well all the time … but he’s still around the 60-percent completion mark.”

Lister’s progression, says Young, has come from the work he’s put into his game.

“Mason is a kid who has worked hard to improve his arm strength, mechanics and everything else that comes with being a quarterback.

“I said when he was a freshman, I didn’t know if I had ever had a quarterback that could spin it like him,” said Young. “When I say spin it, I mean when he needs to put a little touch on it, he can put touch on it … when he needs to drill the ball, he can drill the ball, and when he needs to put it downfield, he puts it downfield.

“He’s worked hard on his mechanics … he hit the road hard last spring, and went to a lot of combines and camps. There are a lot of colleges and universities looking at him,” noted Young. “If he just focuses on the fundamentals, he’s going to find a place collegiately to play because he’s intelligent, he can spin it, and he’s coachable.

“Sometimes he can be a handful, but that’s OK, competitors can be that way,” added Young “That’s what I like the most about Mason Lister — he’s a competitor.”

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September 30, 2022 Tim Birney

ATHENS — Athens overcame a “really, really ugly first half.” and used a pair of special teams TDs to  blow open a close game en route to a 34-0 win over NTL Large School football rival Towanda here on a Homecoming Friday night at Alumni Stadium.

The Wildcats were penalized 11 times for 140 yards in the first half, and led 7-0 at the intermission.

“We shot ourselves in both feet,” said Athens coach Jack Young. “It’s really, really hard to play a game making those kinds of mistakes — it’s no different than turnovers.

“And, we turned the ball over once in the first half … continually shot ourselves in the feet.

“The first half was really, really ugly,” added Young.

On the flip side, the Wildcat defense, which held the Black Knights to just 127 yards in total offense in the game, covered up some of the first-half warts.

“Our defense was well-prepared … as a whole we played very, very well on defense,” said Young. “We didn’t give up any big plays, and we won the turnover battle.”

At the half, Young asked his team to cut down on the mistakes.

“The first half was crazy, but we struck together,” said Young. “At halftime, we didn’t really make any adjustments. We just talked about what we needed to eliminate.

“We cleaned up the penalties a little bit in the second half, and our offense got untracked,” he added.

The Wildcats were flagged six more times in the second half and the game with 17 penalties for 215 yards.

“The penalties the last three weeks have been way out of control, and that’s on me and my coaching staff,” said Young. “We have to get better with the penalties.”

The key plays in the second half were a 61-yard punt return for a score by senior Lucas Horton, and a blocked punt by senior Glenn Romberger, who also scooped it up and returned it 20 yards for a TD.

“We talked all week about special teams … we felt we needed to win the special teams battle, and we did,” said Young. “I can’t say we work extensively each week on all of our special teams, but this week we did.

“We spent a lot of time on our punt return and kick return games. We spent a little extra time this week, because we felt we weren’t getting the job done as well as we could,” he noted. “It paid off.

“I really felt we could pressure their punter, not even with the intent of blocking the punt, but a lot of times that pressure can result in a poor punt.

“We set up a return, and Luke (Horton) did a tremendous job getting to the wall,” added Young. “He’s a big guy, but when he gets to the corner he’s going to turn on the jets … and he may have that big body, but when puts the pedal to the medal, he’s moving.

The lone score of the first half was a 26-yard TD pass from senior QB Mason Lister to Horton in the first quarter. Lister’s PAT kick made it 7-0.

Senior tailback Caleb Nichols scored on a 4-yard TD run midway through the third quarter, and Lister’s PAT kick made it 14-0.

The Wildcat defense forced a Towanda punt on its next possession. Horton let it drop, and it rolled dead at the Athens 26. However, with a flag on the play against Towanda, Young chose to have the Knights punt again.

Horton scooped this one up on the bounce at the far hash, made his way to the home sidelines, turned the corner behind a wall of blockers, and raced 61 yards for a score on the final play of the third quarter to make it 20-0.

Towanda, which had nine penalties for 77 yards, was penalized on the ensuing kickoff, and started at their own 25. After a three-and-out, Romberger blocked Justin Schoonover’s punt, scooped it up and returned it 20 yards for a score. Lister’s PAT kick made it 27-0 with 9:21 remaining in the contest.

The Black Knights’ next possession resulted in a punt, and Romberger once again broke free and blocked it. He again scooped it up, but was hauled down at the Towanda 25.

Moments later, Lister connected with Horton on a 24-yard TD pass. Lister’s PAT kick made it 34-0.

“We talk about the three phases of the game — tackling, the turnover battle, and big plays,” said Young. “We feel if we can win those three areas, we’re going to be successful. In the end tonight, in the second half, we took care of business.”

Lister completed 14 of 24 passes for 221 yards and two TDs, while being picked off twice.

Horton led Athens’ receivers with three catches for 78 yards and two TDs, while junior Josh Martin had three grabs for 58 yards, sophomore Xavier Watson had three catches for 47 yards, and senior Matt Machmer had three receptions for 17 yards.

“We threw the ball to a lot of people tonight,” said Young. “That’s one thing we’ve tried to better at — spreading the wealth, so defenses can’t take away our one guy. I think we’re doing a pretty good job with that.”

Nichols led the Athens ground game with 112 yards and one TD on 13 carries, and Lister added 29 yards on six carries.

Sophomore Riley Vanderpool led Towanda with 80 yards on 23 carries.

Grady Flynn completed 8 of 21 passes for 52 yards and one interception. Schoonover led Towanda with three catches for 29 yards.

Athens, now 4-2, travels to North Penn-Mansfield Friday.

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September 23, 2022 Chris Manning

TROY — Athens couldn’t take advantage of prime field position early, and didn’t have an answer for Troy’s run game as it lost, 32-7, in NTL Large School football action here Friday at Alparon Park.

“You take your lumps, and you take the whooping that you got,” said Athens coach Jack Young. “You know, we had our opportunities, we didn’t take advantage of them. The kids fought well — it was a physical football game. This was probably the most physical football game we played. And our guys flew around, and we made some plays, but we just weren’t good enough.”

Athens’ first two possessions started inside Troy territory, but they came away empty-handed both times. The breaks also went against them, as in the second quarter twice they nearly had miraculous catches that would have resulted in scores fall to the ground.

But, defensively, they just had no answer for Troy’s run game, as the Trojans powered their way to 355 yards on the ground off 53 carries, choosing to throw it just twice.

“We’re going to learn from it, and we’re going to move on,” said Young. “You know, hats off to Troy, they’re a well-coached team, they’re playing with a ton of confidence, and sometimes that’s tough to beat, and tonight we weren’t good enough.”

Quarterback Mason Lister was 11-for-22 for 98 yards with one pick, while his top target was Josh Martin, who had four catches for 51 yards. Luke Horton also had 31 yards receiving on three catches.

It was a relatively balanced day for the Wildcats, as they ran the ball 23 times versus 22 passes, though some of those runs were Lister trying to escape the Trojan pressure.

“We felt like we had an advantage there,” Young said about the pass. “But, again, we didn’t execute. If we didn’t get the ball out of our hands, we failed with pass protection. We had a couple of big drops in the first half, and that hurts. We haven’t had drops in a few weeks, and those guys are great guys, so they’re going to correct themselves, and they’re going to make big plays moving forward.”

On the ground, Athens was led by Caleb Nichols, and his 54 yards on 11 carries, including a touchdown.

“We ran the ball a little bit effectively, maybe in hindsight we should have run the ball a little bit more,” said Young. “But it was just part of the game plan to come out, and get the ball out of our hands, and try to beat their defenders one-on-one, which we did at times, but other times we didn’t.”

Troy’s Clayton Smith had himself a night, with 222 yards rushing and four touchdowns on 22 carries.

“That’s what they do,” Young said about Troy. “And that’s all they do. And they stick to it. I don’t know if they threw the ball three times. And we knew it, we knew what we were getting, but, you know, we’ve got to be better.”

The Wildcats took the opening kick-off, and, thanks to a blindside hit by the Trojans, started the drive at the Troy 44-yard line. After another Troy penalty they were down to the 30.

From there the drive fizzled, though, as even though Lister completed three straight passes, Troy’s tacklers kept Athens’ receivers from getting away, and the Wildcats turned it over on downs.

However, Athens made something happen on Troy’s ensuing drive, as they recovered a fumble on the first play, taking over at the Trojan’s 30-yard line.

Three plays later, it was Troy getting the takeaway, as Smith caught a tipped pass for the pick.

That’s when Troy did what they do best, and went on a 12-play, 75-yard scoring drive that ended with a Smith 5-yard touchdown run. Smith ran the ball six times for 35-yards on the possession, including a big 7-yard gainer on third-and-7 to keep the drive alive.

Athens blocked the extra point, but it was 6-0 Trojans with 2:03 left in the first quarter.

The Wildcat offense showed signs of life on their next drive, as Lister round Martin for a 20-yard gain on the first play from scrimmage. That was followed by a Nichols 13-yard run, getting them down tot he Trojan 34-yard line.

That’s where it stalled, though, as a sack on third-and-2 ultimately forced a Wildcat punt.

Troy took over at their own 18-yard line, and Smith got things started with a 46-yard run off an option pitch from Evan Woodward down inside Athens territory.

From there, they continued to chip away, as they used five more plays to get inside the 10. Athens’ defense would stiffen up, ultimately forcing a 4th-and-1 on the Trojans, but Kael Millard picked it up with a 2-yard gain.

Two plays later, Millard punched it in from a yard out to finish off the 12-play, 82-yard drive. The 2-point conversion was no good, and Troy led 12-0 with 5:18 left in the half.

The Wildcats found some more success on their ensuing drive, with a 21-yard pass play of Lister to Martin getting them down to the Trojan 6-yard line.

However, on the ensuing play Lister was called for intentional grounding, backing Athens up to the 20-yard line for second-and-goal.

They would get to the 16 for 4th-and-goal, with Lister’s pass over the middle tipped to Horton. Horton nearly hauled it in for the touchdown, but it dropped to the ground, giving Troy the ball.

The Wildcats would force another Troy turnover, this time on a Kolsen Keathley interception.

Their ensuing drive went nowhere, though, even as a Lister pass to Xavier Watson went through his hands after it was tipped by Troy.

The Trojans got the second half kick-off, and on the first play from scrimmage Smith went 60-yards untouched off an inside hand-off to pay dirt. The 2-point conversion was no good, but the Trojans led 18-0 with 11:46 on the clock.

Athens’ first drive in the second half ended up in a punt attempt, but the ball went through Horton’s hands. He tried to run it, but was tackled for a 12-yard loss, giving Troy the ball on the Wildcat 31-yard line.

It took them five plays to get into the end zone, the key play being a 19-yard from Mason Smith. It was Clayton who got the touchdown, though, on an 8-yard run. Justice Chimics added the point after, making it 25-0 with 7:14 on the clock.

The Wildcats got to midfield on the following drive, but a holding call, followed by a sack from Clayton Smith, ultimately forced them to punt.

That set up Troy’s final scoring drive, as they went 77 yards on 11 plays, ending with a 7-yard Clayton Smith run. A 17-yard run from Clayton Smith on 2nd-and-long, followed by a 12-yard Evan Woodward run on third-and-7 four plays later keyed the drive.

Chimics’ kick was good, and it was 32-0 Trojans with 10:19 left to play.

Thats when Athens made something of this nightmare, going on a 10-play, 65-yard scoring drive themselves. A 12-yard Lister run on third-and-4 kept the sticks moving, followed four players later by a Nichols three-yard carry on fourth down to keep the drive alive.

Three plays after that, Nichols took a late counter hand-off 21-yards to the house for Athens’ touchdown. Lister added the point after, and it was 32-7 with 6:17 left to play.

The Wildcats never saw the ball again, though, as Troy ran out the final six minutes and change with a 10-play drive, converting two fourth downs to finish with the ball.

Despite the setback, Young feels his team is better than they showed at Alparon Park.

“I don’t think tonight’s an indicator of what kind of football team we are,” he said. “It was a chaotic week, and, you know, at times, our preparation didn’t look like it was on target. At times we were in the wrong places, and this like that, but, you know, a lot that’s on coaching. We’ll take that, and we’ll get better from it.”

The Wildcats, now 3-2, will host divisional rival Towanda next Friday for homecoming.

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September 16, 2022 Tim Birney

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.

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September 9, 2022 Tim Birney

WYALUSING — Athens scored four TDs in the second quarter on its way to a 55-7 win over Wyalusing here Friday night in NTL Large School Division football action.

Senior Caleb Nichols put the Wildcats on the board in the first quarter with a 14-yard TD run. Senior Mason Lister split the uprights with the PAT kick to make it 7-0.

Nichols scored again early in the second quarter, this time on a 6-yard TD run to make it 14-0.

Junior Kaden Parrish scored on Athens’ next possession, busting 10 yards up the middle. Lister PAT kick made it 21-0.

The next four Wildcat scores came on the arm of Lister, who completed 7 of his 9 pass attempts for 198 yards and four TDs.

Lister connected with sophomore Xavier Watson on a 64-yard TD pass late in the second quarter to make it 28-0.

In the final minute of the first half, senior Lucas Horton hauled in a 33-yard TD pass. Lister’s fifth PAT kick of the half made it 35-0.

Early in the third quarter, Nichols hauled in a 30-yard TD pass out of the backfield. Lister’s kick made it 42-0.

Watson’s second TD grab, this one for 25 yards, gave the Wildcats a 48-0 lead entering the fourth quarter.

Sophomore Keegan Congdon provided Athens’ final TD of the night with a 6-yard run. Lister tacked on the PAT kick to make it 55-0.

Moments later, Wyalusing’s Joey Gonsauls raced 87 yards with the ensuing kickoff to put the Rams on the board. Zach Fenton’s PAT kick provided the final margin.

The Wildcats rushed for 200 yards in the win, with Nichols leading the way with 86 yards and two TDs on seven carries. Congdon added 32 yards and one TD on five carries, and Lister chipped in with 27 yards on five carries.

Watson led Athens’ receivers with two catches for 89 yards and two TDs, while Horton had two grabs for 52 yards and one TD.

The Wildcat defense limited Wyalusing to 108 yards in total offense, including just 16 passing yards.

Alex Hunsinger led the Rams with 40 rushing yards on 16 carries, and Liam Franklin added 28 yards on four carries.

Defensively, senior Bradley Bouck had an interception for the Wildcats.

Athens, now 2-1, returns to action Friday at Wellsboro.

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September 2, 2022 Tim Birney

ATHENS — Senior Mason Lister threw four TD passes, and senior Caleb Nichols ran for two to lead Athens to a 48-0 win over Cowanesque Valley here Friday night in NTL football action at Alumni Stadium.

“We were better tonight, but we were far from perfect,” said Athens coach Jack Young.

Athens amassed 318 total yards — 120 passing and 198 rushing — in total offense, while holding CV to just 56 yards.

“We worked on our spread running game this week, that was one of the things we wanted to accomplish, and I think we did a pretty good job,” said Young.

“We’re still trying to figure out what we can hang our hat on offensively. We have a lot of weapons … we need to be patient and figure out what we do best,” added Young.

Lister completed 11 of his 16 pass attempts for 120 yards and four TDs, with senior Lucas Horton hauling in four receptions for 61 yards, and two TDs, junior Josh Martin pulling in four catches for 37 yards, and one TD, and sophomore Xavier Watson adding three grabs for 22 yards, and one TD.

One of the keys in the win, said Young, was giving Lister time to throw, a luxury he was not afforded in the Week 1 loss to Executive Education Academy.

“We had some breakdowns, but again pass protection is an on-going process,” said Young. “We saw a big improvement on the offensive line this week.

“We have some depth on the offensive line, so we’ve been moving people around to see what group fits best,” he added.

Nichols led the Athens ground game with 96 yards and two TDs on seven carries, and Keathley added 90 yards and one TD on four carries. In all, the Wildcats had 198 rushing yards on 17 carries.

Cowanesque Valley lost nine yards on its first possession, and punted the ball away.

Athens’ first possession ended on downs at the CV 42, but the Indians gave the ball back on downs at their 45 moments later.

On the next play, Nichols broke through the right side of the line, slid to the sideline, and raced 46 yards to paydirt. Lister added the PAT kick to make it 7-0 with 6:11 remaining in the first quarter.

“(Caleb) is sneaky back there,” said Young. “He’s a little different than some of the backs we’ve had. He’s slick hitting the holes, and does a nice job.”

The Wildcats forced another CV punt on its next possession, and sophomore Kolsen Keathley returned it 35 yards to the Indian 21.

After a penalty made it first-and-15, Lister and Horton hooked up on a 26-yard TD pass to make it 14-0 with 3:35 left in the first quarter.

Following another CV three-and-out, Athens took over at its own 49.

The Wildcats lost nine yards on the first play of the possession, but completions of 14 and 5 yards from Lister to Martin, sandwiched around a 27-yard run by Nichols moved the ball to the CV 14.

On the first play of the second quarter, Lister dropped the ball over the defensive line to Martin on a middle screen, and he weaved his way into the end zone for a 14-yard TD completion. Lister’s PAT kick made it 21-0 with 11:52 remaining in the first half.

CV’s next possession ended on downs when a pass attempt on a fake punt fell incomplete, giving the Wildcats the ball at CV 38.

After runs of 6 and 8 yards by Lister, Nichols ripped off a 24-yard TD run, breaking a tackle at the 10 on his way to the end zone. Lister’s PAT kick made it 28-0 with 8:29 left in the half.

On CV’s first play of the ensuing possession, sophomore Tim Freeman was sacked and stripped of the ball by Athens sophomore Caleb Nason. Senior Austin Malanoski scooped up the fumble and rumbled 10 yards to the Indian 8.

On Athens’ first play, Lister found Watson open in the end zone for an 8-yard TD connection. The PAT kick made it 35-0 with 8:08 remaining in the half.

CV picked up its first three first downs of the game on its ensuing possession, with Freeman and Fletcher Good alternating carries from the Indian 39 to the Wildcat 16.

On second-and-4 at the Athens 16, CV QB Graham Hess was sacked and stripped by Glen Romberger, with Martin pouncing on the loose ball to end the drive.

With the “mercy rule” in effect to start the second half, Athens chewed up nearly half the third quarter with a seven-play scoring drive to up its lead to 41-0.

The key plays in the drive were a 28-yard run by Keathley, an 11-yard scramble by Lister, a 12-yard pass from Lister to Horton.

The Wildcats capped the drive with a 16-yard TD pass Lister to Horton with 6:21 left in the third quarter.

After another CV three-and-out, Keathley capped a penalty-filled possession with a 48-yard TD run with 15 seconds left in the third quarter. Lister’s PAT kick provided the final margin.

“Kolsen Keathley is a playmaker,” said Young.

The Indians had another three-and-out in its next possession, but got the ball back one play later thanks to an Athens fumble.

CV picked up three first downs, including a 4-yard run by Carter Ackley on fourth-and-4, and drove the ball to the Athens 10, before turning it over on downs on the final play of the game.

Good led the CV ground game with 28 yards on 11 carries, and Freeman added 22 yards on 12 carries. In all, the Indians rushed for 37 yards on 41 carries, thanks partly to several QB sacks, which count as rushing yards.

Hess completed 3 of 9 passes for 19 yards, with Ackley hauling in two for 8 yards, and Good grabbing one for 11 yards.

Athens, now 1-1, travels to Wyalusing (1-1) Friday, while CV (0-2) hosts Montgomery (0-2) Friday.

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August 26, 2022 Tim Birney

ATHENS — Executive Education Academy used a pair long pass plays late in the first half to take control on its way to a 33-14 season-opening win over Athens here Friday night in non-league football action at Alumni Stadium.

With the Raptors up 13-7, QB Darmel Lopez connected on TD passes of 92 and 47 yards in a span of  87 seconds to increase the lead to 27-7 in the closing moments of the first half.

“Those plays were killers,” said Athens assistant Keith Klein. “We just didn’t have eyes to the receiver, peaked in a little bit, and he got behind us … just a couple of mistakes. We didn’t do the little things right.”

On the night, Lopez completed 13 of 18 passes (to seven different receivers) for 290 yards and two TDs — often using his mobility to give himself more time to find open receivers. He also carried the ball twice for 19 yards and one TD.

“We saw what he could do in the films, and we tried to contain him, but a couple times our contain got blocked, and we just didn’t do the job,” said Klein.

On the flip side, Athens’ senior QB was harassed nearly every time he dropped back, and had little time to throw. He completed just 4 of 18 pass attempts for 93 yards and one TD, while being picked off three times, and sacked three times.

Two of the three EEA sacks were registered by senior nose guard Tank Martinez, who also had an interception, and 12 tackles.

“Their nose guard (Tank Martinez) killed us,” said Klein. “We made some personnel changes at halftime, and pretty much gave up our regular blocking scheme, and dropped to double-team the nose guard.

“Everybody on our (offensive) line had poor footwork in the first half,” added Klein. “We challenged them to get better at halftime, and they did step up. They looked a lot better in the second half.”

Lister was also hurt by fur dropped passes, including a potential TD throw on the game’s opening possession.

“Our passing catching was not good,” said Klein.

EEA’s speed was a big factor, said Klein.

““They were faster than us, especially on the edges.”

Sayre transfer Lucas Horton, playing in his first game for the Wildcats, returned the opening kickoff 37 yards to the Athens 49, and senior tailback Caleb Nichols ripped off a 13-yard run on the first play from scrimmage to move the ball to the EEA 38.

Three plays later, Lister rifled an 8-yard pass to junior Josh Martin on fourth-and-8 to put the ball at the EEA 28.

Four plays later, the Wildcats turned the ball over on downs at the Raptor 26.

Athens had the ball back two plays later, after Martin pounced on a fumble at the EEA 37.

The Wildcats nearly took the lead on the next play, but Lister’s perfectly-thrown pass into the end zone was dropped.

Four plays later, Athens punted the ball away, but the Wildcat defense forced a three-and-out and the offense took over at its 47.

Athens committed its first turnover of the game moments later as Lister was picked off, and the Raptors had the ball at their own 20.

A 30-yard pass from Lopez to Mayson Terrell moved the ball to midfield, and consecutive runs of 12 and 20 yards by Zamir Perkins put the Raptors in the red zone at the Wildcat 18.

Two plays later, Lopez scampered around left end untouched on an 11-yard TD run. The PAT kick made it 7-0 with 9:48 remaining in the half.

On the first play following the ensuing kickoff, Lister connected with Nichols on a swing pass into the left flats. Nichols split between blocks by Horton and left tackle sophomore Caleb Nason, and raced 70 yards to paydirt.

Lister’s PAT kick left the game tied at 7-7 with 9:31 remaining in the first half.

Two plays later, senior Matt Machmer kept the momentum on the Wildcats’ side with a leaping interception on a deep ball thrown by Lopez, but moments later the Raptors countered with an interception at the Athens 24.

EEA needed six plays take the lead, with Perkins finishing off the short drive with runs of 11 and 2 yards to give the Raptors a 13-7 lead with 4:46 left in the first half.

After an Athens three-and-out, EEA found itself pinned deep at the Wildcat 8 after Jyhmeik Roman mishandled a pitch from Lopez, then booted the ball backward as he attempted to scoop it up. The result was a 21-yard loss.

On the next play, Lopez launched a pass past midfield to Roman, who hauled in the ball, broke a tackle and raced into the end zone for a 92-yard TD completion to extend the lead to 19-7 with 2:05 left in the first half.

Less than a minute later, Athens was flagged for illegal procedure on a fourth-and-1 play, and decided to punt.

EEA was flagged for roughing-the-punter, and Athens kept possession at the Raptor 44. On the next play, Martinez intercepted a screen pass at the Wildcat 47.

It took just one play for Lopez to find Roman for a 47-yard TD. Roman also hauled in a pass from Lopez on the conversion to make it 27-7 with 38 seconds left in the first half.

Perkins added a 1-yard TD run midway through the third quarter to give the Raptors a 33-7 lead.

Athens found the end zone again with 3:13 remaining in the game on a 1-yard QB sneak by Lister.

Nichols led the Athens ground game with 47 yards on 14 carries, while Lister rushed for 10 yards and a TD on 15 carries. Overall, the Wildcats rushed for 57 yards on 35 carries.

Perkins led EEA with 62 rushing yards and two TDs on 11 carries. Overall, the Raptors rushed for 89 yards on 26 carries.

Klein said there was a bright spot for the Wildcats.

“We had a bunch of young kids in there flying around. When the young guys got in, I really liked what I saw.”

The Wildcats will host Cowanesque Valley next Friday.

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