By Jonathan Deal
It was only a matter of time.
After a scoreless tie for three quarters, the floodgates finally broke at Golden Eagle Stadium Friday.
Athens used an up-tempo attack to wear down its rival and force mistakes in a decisive fourth quarter that was dominated by the home team. The Golden Eagles scored all of their points during a 5 1/2-minute stretch to pull away from Decatur for a 22-0 victory.
It was the start Athens was looking for after dropping last year’s season opener to the Red Raiders on the road. The victory snapped a four-game winning streak by Decatur in the series and was the first time Athens shut out its rival since 2001.
“We felt like we had something to prove,” said Athens head coach Allen Creasy. “We’re a better team than we showed last year and we wanted to come out right off the bat and show that.”
Although the score was still 0-0 into the fourth, Athens was in total control throughout the second half. AHS accumulated 329 total yards compared to Decatur’s 86 and ran nearly twice as many plays.
“They completely dominated us,” said Decatur head coach Jere Adcock. “We couldn’t keep our defense off the field."
Athens offense ran 77 plays, keeping the ball on the ground in the second half to wear down the visitors. Junior running back Tarik Malone carried the load. After coming close throughout the game, Malone finally broke free for 48 yards and the game’s initial touchdown with nine minutes left in regulation.
“I knew that little short game was going to open up to something big,” said Malone. “The whole momentum changed after that play. This game is going to change our whole season.”
Malone’s TD gave Athens the momentum to pull away. Following a safety on Decatur in the next series, Stevie Farmer connected with Malone on a 6-yard pass to make it 15-0.
Malone finished with 18 carries for 114 yards and two total touchdowns.
Defensive end DJ Pride picked off Decatur’s quarterback on the next play from scrimmage that led to Athens final score, this time from running back Shaun Johnson. The senior complemented Malone with 14 carries for 68 yards and a touchdown.
While the offense provided the final blows, the defense was the story of the game, limiting Decatur to negative running yards.
“We’re pretty good on defense,” said Creasy. “To be able to hold a team like Decatur scoreless is a feat. It’s a big night for our guys and our school.”
Johnny Anderson forced a crucial fumble that ended Decatur's most promising drive in the third quarter. Anderson and Pride led the way for Athens. Pride, who missed all of last season due to injury, had an interception and a pair of sacks.
“It felt amazing to be back,” said Pride. “I’m glad to be back. I missed the game so much. I’m just ready to keep doing good, keep getting better.”
Farmer finished with 140 yards passing, completing 15 of 27 attempts with one touchdown and no interceptions. Harper Ward was his favorite target. The junior caught nine balls for 87 yards.
Athens host West Point next week to open the region slate.