Two weeks ago, Athens and Hueytown combined for 89 points in a game filled with big plays. Friday night proved to be the complete opposite, as the Golden Eagles earned a 19-7 victory over Hartselle in a contest that proved to be a defensive battle of inches.
All four touchdowns in the game came on the ground on carries of 6 yards or less. Jaylen Gilbert notched two rushing touchdowns while Jordan Scott added one.
“I think our guys did a heck of a job up front,” said Athens head coach Cody Gross. “It was a battle of wills. We won some and they won some up front. I thought our defense played really well tonight. Offensively we have some work to do, but I'm really proud to get this win.”
Gilbert put up the first points of the game for Athens on a 3-yard run. A missed point after attempt made it 6-0 Golden Eagles with 7:24 left to go in the opening quarter.
That scoreline would remain until Scott capped a long drive with a 6-yard rushing touchdown on the first play of the second quarter. Athens would go for two but failed to convert, making the score 12-0.
Another long drive helped Athens eat up more clock until just over a minute remained until halftime. Hartselle forced the Golden Eagles to attempt a field goal, which the Tigers blocked.
Hartselle went into its 2-minute drill and managed to get the ball down to the Athens 21-yard line before it too was forced to try a field goal. The kick fell short of the uprights, and the score remained 12-0 Golden Eagles at the break.
“Not punching it in there right before the half and getting our field goal blocked hurt us, but luckily they missed a field goal, and their kicker is a good one,” Gross said. “We were very fortunate there.”
Shortly after halftime, Hartselle handed Athens a gift in the form of a fumbled snap. The Golden Eagles recovered and had excellent field position at the Tigers' 16-yard line.
It took a few plays to get there, but on fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line, Gilbert carried the ball into the end zone for what would prove to be the final score of the night for Athens. Heath Carden added the extra point, and the Golden Eagles led 19-0 with 7:54 left in the third.
Hartselle would sustain a drive and finally put points on the board with a goal-line plunge. The PAT made it 19-7 Athens with 4:04 remaining in the third quarter.
Both teams would be held scoreless for the rest of the contest, and Athens would pick up another Class 6A, Region 8 victory. The win gives Athens a 4-2 overall record and 3-1 region mark, and keeps the Golden Eagles in the hunt for the second spot in the region and a home game to open up this year's playoffs.
“It's a big, big win,” Gross said.
Athens will travel to play Buckhorn Friday in another important region matchup.
“'The next one' has kind of been our mantra,” Gross said. “We will give (our players) the weekend off and come back on Monday ready to strap our helmets on again.”