By Jonathan Deal
They could have played for four more quarters and Athens would still have a shutout.
The Golden Eagles’ defense came up big again Friday to shut out Russellville 24-0 and snap a losing streak spanning 12 years.
“Our record against them hasn’t been good, but we’ve played some good football,” said head coach Alan Creasy. “We just hadn’t made the plays to win it at the end and tonight we made those plays.”
Athens (5-2, 3-2) never let Russellville inside the Athens 30-yard line and limited the visitors to 133 total yards. The AHS defense shut down the Golden Tigers ground game early, forcing the visitors to pass, something they were clearly not comfortable doing.
Russellville quarterback Zach Garrison completed 5 of 19 pass attempts for 32 yards and two interceptions.
“At the start, they were kind of pushing us off the ball and then we settled in,” said safety Johnnie Anderson. “After that, they couldn’t run it or throw it, really.”
Anderson, a four-year starter, had one of his best nights wearing black and gold. The senior had five tackles, a fumble recovery, an interception and a rushing touchdown.
After a first-quarter field position battle, quarterback Stevie Farmer opened the scoring when he scrambled 12 yards for a touchdown a minute into the second quarter. It was Farmer’s first rushing touchdown for Athens.
“It looked like the defense was kind of flowing to the right and I was able to go left and get around that edge,” said Farmer. “It was cool. Anyway we can score, I’ll take it. I was just trying to get in the end zone.”
With two minutes to play until halftime, Andre Holt jumped on a loose ball to set Athens up at the Russellville 26. A minute later, Anderson, from the wildcat formation, went over the top from five yards out on a direct snap.
After Bram McGrady added a 29-yard field goal at the end of the third quarter, Russellville (3-4, 2-3) was forced to play catch-up for the final 12 minutes. Athens defense forced three turnovers in the final quarter, denying Russellville any opportunity to recover.
Paxton Schrimsher and Anderson both had fourth-quarter interceptions while Holt forced a fumble that Anderson recovered on Russellville’s last drive. William Mathews caught a 16-yard touchdown pass from Farmer to put the game out of reach with six minutes left.
“I’m awfully proud of our guys. We played a great defensive game,” said Creasy. “Offensively, we kept shooting ourselves in the foot, but our defense kept hanging in there.”
Farmer completed 19 of 23 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown. Tarik Malone carried the ball 19 times for 90 yards. Shaun Johnson added 51 yards on the ground for AHS.
The win sets up a massive 5A Region 8 game next week between Athens and Cullman (6-1, 5-0). A win could set Athens up for a home playoff game while a loss would mean fourth place in the region.
“It’s the next one,” said Creasy about the Cullman game. “We’re still in control of our own destiny. We’ve still got a chance to finish anywhere from second to fourth right now and next week is going to play a big part in that.”