By Jonathan Deal
— This is what Athens football is supposed to be. Practicing on cool November afternoons, looking forward to big Friday night playoff games.
That kind of atmosphere is back. The Golden Eagles are ready to prove tonight they have what it takes at 5A No. 6 Center Point.
“With having expectations of a chance to win in the playoffs, you always have good practices this time of year,” said Athens head coach Allen Creasy. “They are a pretty confident group. We’ve played a tough schedule and are ready for the challenge.”
AHS has reason to be confident. After struggling in 5A Region 8 a year ago, Athens went 4-3 in region play and beat three 6A schools.
Athens won five of its last six games, including two shutouts. The Golden Eagles’ defense has been as good as any in 5A this season, giving up just 12 points per game. Led by senior Johnnie Anderson, the AHS defense is a major reason for the turnaround.
“A lot of it has been the defense, but we’re playing with basically the same guys,” said Creasy. “The system is a year older and we’re more comfortable in the system.”
Anderson roams the secondary, forcing turnovers on defense and scores touchdowns from the Wildcat formation on offense while also catching passes.
Anderson adds another dimension to Athens’ offense, which is built on a power running game and getting players in space out of spread formations. It’s the same offense AHS ran last year, but this there’s a difference.
“Offensively, we have some guys that have been able to make big plays,” said Creasy. “You don’t have to do everything right on a long drive. We’ve got Tarik Malone making big runs and Terrance Watkins in the passing game.”
Creasy also credited running back Shaun Johnson and wide receiver Harper Ward for making the Athens offense run smoothly. First-year starting quarterback Stevie Farmer’s ability to get the ball in the hands of Athens’ playmakers is why AHS has a great opportunity at Center Point.
“Center Point is a very good team,” said Creasy. “You’ve got to be able to score. It’s hard to drive it all the way down without them making a (defensive) play, so we’re going to have to get those big plays.”
Center Point won a very competitive 5A Region by default after Walker received a postseason ban. The Eagles have not been a No. 1 seed in the playoffs since 1997, so the atmosphere should be live in Center Point.
“They attack you in every phase,” said Creasy. “They attack you in the running game; they can throw the ball down the field. It’s exciting to watch them. They have a throwback mentality in that there is no finesse to their game. It’s right there in your face. They don’t try to trick you. They play man to man on the corners. You have to come to play.”
Athens and Center Point kick off at 7 p.m.
Check The News Courier’s website — enewscourier.com — for coverage of tonight’s games and see Sunday’s print edition for more.