By Kim West
The opening minutes of a Class 5A, Region 8 bout with No. 4 Muscle Shoals seemed promising for Athens after an emotionally draining 14-6 loss at No. 5 Hartselle the previous week.
Muscle Shoals muffed the opening kickoff that was booted deep by Athens’ Bram McGrady. The Trojans had to start the drive on their own 6-yard line, and they managed only six yards on three carries while going three-and-out.
After an 8-yard punt return by Derek Teague, Athens began its first drive in Muscle Shoals territory at the 42. Quarterback Stevie Farmer, who came into the game with 561 yards and five touchdowns in three games, warmed up by finding Shawn Johnson for a short gain. But on third-and-9 from the Muscle Shoals 41, Farmer attempted a pro-caliber pass across the field to the right sideline and Martavius Mims jumped the route for an easy interception. He streaked 70 yards for a 7-0 Trojans’ lead that silenced a home crowd filled with fans still finding their seats at Golden Eagle Stadium.
On the ensuing drive, Muscle Shoals forced Athens to punt after three plays in a game that featured a combined 13 punts in 22 drives. A low snap by Athens rolled into the end zone, and the Trojans fell on the ball for their second score and a quick 14-0 lead.
The game plan continued to go awry for Athens as Muscle Shoals relied on a handful of basic option plays to run around and through a stubborn Athens defense on its way to a 35-0 victory on a drizzly and dreary night.
The Trojans went ahead 21-0 late in the first quarter when Zachary Sullivan galloped 28 yards to the Athens’ 7 before being dragged down by cornerback Jonathan Cain. Two plays later on third-and-goal from the 2, Sullivan rumbled into the end zone.
On the ensuing drive, Farmer found Durandall Williams for an 8-yard completion that gave Athens one of its only two first downs in the game. But then Farmer was picked off by Ja’leen Ricks and Kavonte McDonald scampered in from the Athens 2 to put Muscle Shoals ahead 28-0 at halftime.
Any hopes Athens had of a comeback were dashed when DaMarion King stepped in front of a Farmer pass intended for Paxton Schrimsher and returned it 35 yards to the Athens 20. Muscle Shoals quarterback Landon Smothers nearly scored on a 19-yard keeper but was stopped short of the goal line by Teague. Sullivan scored from the Golden Eagles’ 1 for the Trojans’ fifth and final touchdown.
Muscle Shoals overcame 10 penalties for 70 yards by capitalizing on Farmer’s three interceptions and the Golden Eagles’ three fumbles on special teams. The Trojans only gained 182 yards on offense, but they scored 28 points off Athens’ turnovers.
Muscle Shoals, which has a 181-0 scoring advantage in four games, is the only team among 426 AHSAA and AISA schools statewide to hold its opponents scoreless this season.
Brian Sulcer and Jarrett McLin each had seven stops and three tackles for a loss for the Athens defense, which is only giving up 10.5 points per contest. Two of the Trojans’ five scores were on special teams.
Athens (2-2 overall,1-2 in Region 8) will play at 6A Austin on Friday as teams take a break from the region schedule. The Golden Eagles will play at archrival East Limestone on Oct. 4.
Muscle Shoals (4-0, 3-0) will host 4A Dora, with key region games against Hartselle and Cullman awaiting the Trojans in the second half of the regular season.
• Game captains were seniors Johnnie Anderson, Reggie Battles, Bram McGrady and D.J. Pride for Athens, and Zachary Sullivan and Ethon Felton for Muscle Shoals.
• Athens, which last won a state title in 2006 and went to the playoffs in 2010, still has a 17-7 record against Muscle Shoals, including six straight wins from 2004-09.
• Muscle Shoals, which has transitioned from a last-place team in the region to a state title contender under sixth-year coach Scott Basden, have won the past four meetings with Athens by a combined score of 118-10.
• During the past seven seasons, Athens has been held scoreless six times at Golden Eagle Stadium, including a 24-0 loss to Muscle Shoals in 2011.
• Muscle Shoals kicker Rhett Morrison converted all five of his extra point attempts. He missed a 40-yard field goal in the second quarter.