By Rob Phraner

News Courier Sports

ATHENS – Athens lost their first home game this year, falling short 35-31 to Hartselle (6-1, 4-1). They are 3-2 in Class 5A, Region 8 action. The game had a charged atmosphere with several lead changes and playoff implications on the line for both teams.

“Athens is super and athletic and our kids played hard all game,” Hartselle coach Bob Godsey said. “Although our defense was super, it was a tribute to Coach Creasy that the score was so close.”

Hartselle struck first with one-second left in the first quarter with a 45-yard pass from Wes Chenault to Tony Weaver.

The Golden Eagles responded with a 61-yard pass from Rob Ezell to Jacquez Pride. Pride then took a 14-yard reverse for a touchdown and Athens knotted the game 7-7.

After the Athens defense stopped Hartselle on fourth down, forcing a fumble, the Golden Eagles went 22 yards, setting up Matt Jackson’s 39-yard field goal.

Chenault led the Tigers to score right before the half, connecting with Quin Dunlap for a 14-yard touchdown and a 14-10 lead. Chenault finished 16-27 for 246 yard and 3 touchdowns.

Athens aired it out to begin the third quarter. Pride took the kick-off 52 yards to the Tiger 44 yard-line and then Ezell found him behind the defense for a 33-yard touchdown, making it 17-14. More Ezell passing led to a Karlos Jones 2-yard touchdown.

Ezell finished 10-19 for 220 yards and two touchdowns.

“We got some things going, but allowed some plays that let them off the hook,” Athens coach Allen Creasy said.

One of those plays was a 50-yard pass from Chenault to Weaver and a third down play. Weaver passed for a score four plays later, cutting the Athens lead to 24-21 with 2:23 left in the third quarter.

“They found some holes in our defense and we’re going to fix those,” Creasy said.

Athens was forced to punt and the momentum swung in the Tigers favor.

“We answered the call every time and made plays when we needed to,” Godsey said.

Hartselle capped its next drive with another touchdown reception by Dunlap, giving the Tigers the lead 28-24 with 7:35 to play in the game. Athens could not mount another drive and was forced to go for a 4th and 17 with two-minutes remaining.

They couldn’t convert, leading to a short touchdown run by Marquez Jones for Hartselle.

“We didn’t play to our potential tonight, partly because Hartselle came out and played so well,” Creasy said.

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