By Jonathan Deal
It was never in doubt.
The Golden Eagles defense never gave Pleasant Grove a chance to breathe in a 24-0 shutout Friday at Athens Stadium to advance to the third round of the state playoffs.
The Athens ‘D’ forced six turnovers and held Pleasant Grove to under 96 yards rushing and 110 passing in its most dominating performance of the season.
“Our game plan was to simply put them on the ground and we did that time and time again,” said Athens head coach Allen Creasy. “We talk to the players about ‘do our job.’ If they do that, it’s doesn’t matter what the other team does.”
AHS followed the same season-long formula: Lean on its opportunistic defense and score on explosive plays. The results shocked a Pleasant Grove team that had lost just one game this year when they stepped off the bus in Athens.
“We made mistakes, we made our share of them,” said Creasy. “But we were able make up for them. Big players, make big plays in big games and we had some guys make some big plays.”
Unable to move the chains with the run game, Pleasant Grove was forced to pass the football and Athens was ready. Led by Paxton Schrimsher, the Golden Eagles defense picked off DeJuan Feagan four times. Schrimsher intercepted two passes, returning one for a touchdown.
“We wanted to make them beat us passing,” said senior safety Johnnie Anderson. “And it worked. We got four interceptions and six turnovers. It was big to get those turnovers because it set up our offense.”
Valdarian Collier intercepted Feagan’s first throw of the game when he stepped in front of a pass at the Spartans’ 40-yard line and returned it 37 yards to the 3. Anderson scored two plays later from a direct snap to give Athens an early 10-0 lead.
Anderson ended Pleasant Grove’s next two drives with fumble recoveries and the Golden Eagles took a 10-0 lead into halftime.
Schrimsher’s two picks came in the third quarter. The junior’s 65-yard pick-six gave Athens a 17-0 lead midway through the third.
“I was in cover-two on both those plays,” said Schrimsher. “I just read the quarterback’s eyes. Those turnovers were huge. It gave us the momentum to carry through.”
Athens put the game out of reach on its next offensive series when quarterback Stevie Farmer connected with Terrance Watkins on a 72-yard touchdown hookup.
“They are a great offensive team,” said Creasy. “We knew our defense was going to have to step up and they did. I can’t say enough about what they did. The points that we were able to score were because of what they did.”
Athens (9-3) advances to the third round for the first time in seven years and will play at Muscle Shoals (11-1) in a rematch of Region 8 teams.
“Getting to this point, it feels great,” said Anderson, who played his 45th game for Athens Friday. “To see all of your hard work pay off with big wins in the postseason, there’s nothing like it. But we’re not finished yet.”