Athens sent a message on the first play of Thursday's game that it was not going to mess around with Buckhorn. The Golden Eagles continued to deliver that message all night long in a 47-14 win over the Bucks.
Athens ran a trick play for a 79-yard touchdown on its first play from scrimmage and roared to a 40-0 halftime lead before coasting to victory in the second half.
“We capitalized on some mistakes they made and really threw the ball well,” Athens coach Cody Gross said. “Our punt team also did a great job. We blocked a punt and returned another punt to the 10-yard line that set up a touchdown.”
Athens took control right from the start. On the Golden Eagles' first play from scrimmage, quarterback Jordan Scott threw a backwards pass to Jaden Jude who then threw down field to a wide open Jaylen Gilbert. Gilbert caught the pass and raced away to a 79-yard touchdown.
Gross said it is a play Athens works on in practice all the time, and he felt like it would work against an aggressive Buckhorn secondary.
“We just felt by looking at the film, we thought we had an opportunity there,” Gross said. “People would consider that a trick play or a gadget play, but for us its a base play because we run it in practice all the time. They were aggressive with their safety, and we felt like it would be an opportunity to set the tone early, and thankfully we did.”
Athens increased its lead to 13-0 later in the first quarter on a 7-yard touchdown pass from Scott to Larry Howard.
The Golden Eagles put the game away in the second quarter with 27 points. Scott was the star of the quarter with three touchdown passes.
Scott threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to A'Vonte Thompson and followed that up with a 15-yard scoring toss to Dylan Roper. He capped off his first-half touchdown barrage with a 14-yard pass to Jude.
Scott played perhaps the best game of his Athens career. The senior was 9-11 for 107 yards and four touchdowns in the first half. He, as well as the other Athens starters, didn't play in the second half.
“If you calculate his passer efficiency rating like they do in college, he would be leading the nation in college football,” Gross said of Scott. “His rating is 225, and I think (Alabama quarterback) Mac Jones is leading the country at 223. In 58 attempts, he has 12 touchdowns and no interceptions. That's pretty good.”
Gilbert closed the first-half scoring for Athens with a 52-yard touchdown run to put the Golden Eagles up by 40 at the break. Gilbert finished the game with 73 rushing yards and 79 receiving yards.
Athens' defense was just as impressive. When the first-team defense was in, they held Buckhorn to 29 total yards and one first down.
The second half was a chance for the Golden Eagles backups to get a lot of playing time. Buckhorn scored two touchdowns in the third quarter to make the score a little closer, but Athens got the final score of the night on a 4-yard touchdown run by Jayme'n Draper in the fourth quarter.
Athens improved to 5-2 overall and 4-1 in Class 6A, Region 8 play. The Golden Eagles will host region leader Cullman in a crucial region game next Friday.
With Muscle Shoals losing Thursday to Hartselle, a path is there for Athens to win the region championship. If the Golden Eagles win their final two games against Cullman and Decatur and Cullman beats Muscle Shoals on Oct. 23, Athens will win the region championship. However, a loss to the Bearcats could see Athens slip to third place if Muscle Shoals beats Buckhorn next week.
“(Cullman) is a game that I circled on the calendar before the season, because I knew Cullman was going to be really, really good this year,” Gross said. I knew if we could take care of ourselves, we'd be in position to play a team at the top of the region, and that's what's happened.”