Athens (3-2) fell to Muscle Shoals (5-0) Friday night 27-13, but the score does not indicate the type of game that was played.
Athens was within one score for the majority of the game, refusing to let the Trojans pull away. It wasn’t until a late breakaway touchdown with minutes remaining that Muscle Shoals made it a two-score ballgame.
The Golden Eagles of Athens will be left with many “what if” questions over how the game could have gone. They were led by a gutsy and passionate performance from senior quarterback Jaden Jude and the entirety of their defense. Athens was clearly ready for the challenge of taking on the undefeated Trojans thanks to the motivation and grit of their head coach, Cody Gross.
When asked about his Quarterback, Coach Gross had one word to describe him.
“Warrior. He’s a warrior,” Gross said. “He’s tough and a competitor. He does what it takes to win.”
On Friday night, Athens seemed to not be able to catch a break. While there is never a good time for turnovers and penalties, the Golden Eagles’ turnovers and penalties seemed to come at very poor times.
The most glaring example of this came in the second quarter, with the Golden Eagles down 7-0. Athens was driving, eventually getting the ball into the red zone. However, Athens would fumble the ball on the 2-yard line with Muscle Shoals recovering the football.
The game would go into the half at 7-0 with three turnovers total by the two teams. The one touchdown came from Muscle Shoals running back Brooks Berry.
In the second half, both teams came out facing a defensive struggle, as Athens and Muscle Shoals saw three and outs on each of their first two possessions.
Then a break finally went Athens’ way on their third possession of the half. Around midway in the third quarter, a Muscle Shoals player accidentally touched the ball on an Athens punt, which was first recovered by Athens. On a short field, Jude would convert a fourth down with his legs. The drive was capped off with a 23-yard touchdown run. However, the extra point would be missed, keeping the Golden Eagles down 7-6 but well within striking distance.
It would remain 7-6 for the rest of the third and into the beginning of the fourth, with Athens showing their defensive prowess. Near the start of the fourth, on a Trojans drive, Athens would stop Muscle Shoals on fourth and goal. However, being pinned deep in their own territory was a tough obstacle to overcome, and the Golden Eagles would give it back to Muscle Shoals with good field position.
Muscle Shoals would capitalize with a Luke Peoples touchdown to Devin Townsend. Following a missed extra point of their own, the score stood at 13-6.
Athens would end up going down 20-6 following another Shoals touchdown on very good field position. However, the Golden Eagles did not lay down and quit, but put up another score of their own. This came on a passing touchdown to receiver Johnson Speagle.
After receiving the onside kick, late in the game, Muscle Shoals sophomore running back William Owens would breakaway from midfield for his second rushing touchdown and the score that would ice the game.
The final score was 27-13.
While the Golden Eagles must move forward following a loss, there were many good things to take away from the game. The team put up a great effort against an undefeated team, a thought that Coach Gross reiterated.
“We went toe to toe with one heck of a football team. I just told them I could not be more proud of them,” Gross said.
Athens will now hit the road to take on Hueytown in their next matchup scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 24. Muscle Shoals moves on to face Hazel Green October 1.