Game of the Week: Athens to tangle with Trojans

Athens' Heath Carden crosses the goal line after catching a pass against James Clemens in the Golden Eagles' first game of the year. The touchdown was called back due to a penalty on the play. Athens travels to play Muscle Shoals in a huge region game Friday night.

It has been an odd 2020 season for Athens. The Golden Eagles had to miss two weeks of practice right before the season began due to two players testing positive for COVID-19, then canceled their first game against Fort Payne.

After losing their first game of the season to Class 7A powerhouse James Clemens, Athens (2-1 overall, 2-0 region) has reeled off two straight region victories, but neither win was against one of the stronger teams in the region.

The schedule is about to get much tougher for the Golden Eagles, beginning with Friday’s game at defending region champion Muscle Shoals (2-0, 2-0). Athens coach Cody Gross said the level of play must pick up for the Eagles to have a chance.

I don’t think we played up to our potential last week (in a 22-0 win over Hazel Green),” Gross said. “I don’t think it was close. But we’re about to hit a stretch of games where we’re going to have to. I really like this team, and think we have a chance to do some really good things, but that’s all it is is a chance.”

Gross said the things Athens needs to improve on aren’t difficult. They just require discipline and focus.

It’s all about fundamentals,” Gross said. “Route running, protection, footwork for every position. It really boils down to fundamentals at every position.”

One thing Gross has figured out in the first three games is who his quarterback is. Jordan Scott and Hartselle transfer Cal George split time in the first few games, but Gross said Scott has grabbed a firm grasp on the position, and threw three touchdown passes last week.

I think Jordan is playing extremely well,” Gross said. “He’s got a really high football IQ. It’s really crazy how well he understands what we’re doing. He’s really playing with a lot of confidence.”

Athens and Muscle Shoals are both 2-0 in Class 6A, Region 8, and Friday’s winner will take a huge step toward a region championship. Both teams have blowout wins over Columbia, and Muscle Shoals defeated Decatur 24-12.

They are still the team to beat,” Gross said of Muscle Shoals. “They’re used to winning, and what they do, the do very well. It’s about as good a coached team as we’ll face.”

Since Athens was forced to suspend practice for two weeks in mid-August, there have been no further COVID-19 issues in the team. Gross said players and coaches are having to be extra cautious to make sure there is not another positive test which could ruin the Golden Eagles’ season.

We’ve had to adjust like everybody else has in every facet of our lives,” he said. “It’s a different world for many things, like how we get dressed. It’s not on the field, it off the field stuff. It’s important that we not only do what we’re supposed to do here (the locker room), but we all do what we’re supposed to do away from here. That’s always important, but it’s especially important this year.”

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