A historic season for Athens High School's football team came to a sudden and heartbreaking end as Homewood upset the Golden Eagles 34-31 in the first round of the Class 6A playoffs Friday night.
Athens won its first region championship since 2000, claiming the top spot in Region 8, but fell to the Region 5 No. 4 seed when quarterback Brode Susce threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Jackson Parris with 29 seconds remaining to give the Patriots the win.
“I hate it for these guys,” Athens coach Cody Gross said. “I just wish I could have done more. Hat's off to (Homewood) and that group. They do a really good job offensively.”
The final touchdown was the climax to a roller-coaster fourth quarter, in which the lead changed hands four times.
Athens (7-3) entered the fourth quarter leading 17-10, but Homewood scored on every one of its fourth-quarter drives. The Patriots (6-4) tied the game with Susce's 1-yard touchdown pass to Charlie Goode early in the fourth quarter, then immediately got the ball back when Athens fumbled the ensuing kickoff.
The Patriots needed just three plays to score, with Susce rumbling in from 2 yards out at 9:51 remaining.
Athens was undeterred and came right back to tie the game on a 29-yard touchdown run by Jaylen Gilbert. However, Susce led the Patriots down the field again. The drive stalled at the 15-yard line, but J.C. Daniel booted a 32-yard field goal to put Homewood up 27-24 with 3:00 remaining.
Athens once again came right back down the field. On a first down play from their own 46-yard line, Athens quarterback Jordan Scott dropped back and lofted a perfect pass to Dylan Roper, who caught it in stride and sprinted untouched for a 54-yard touchdown with 1:56 remaining.
However, that was plenty of time for Susce and the Patriots. Susce was 6-8 for 59 yards on the final drive, including the winning 5-yard touchdown pass.
Susce was 27-40 for 347 yards and three touchdown passes overall.
“Brody had an amazing game, and he did it last week, too,” Homewood coach Ben Berguson said. “I'm really happy for him. He's a senior, and he's really come on the scene the last couple weeks.”
Athens' final drive ended when a fourth-down pass was batted down with 6 seconds left.
While the fourth quarter was a back-and-forth affair, the first three quarters were more subdued. Athens jumped on top early in the first quarter on Gilbert's 2-yard touchdown run, but Homewood tied the score midway through the first on Susce's 28-yard touchdown pass to Len Irvine.
The only points in the second quarter were a pair of field goals. Daniel hit a 26-yard field goal midway through the quarter to put Homewood up, but Athens tied the score with a 42-yard field goal by Heath Carden on the final play of the half.
Athens had the only touchdown of the third quarter, a 3-yard touchdown run by Gilbert late in the quarter, which set up the fourth-quarter fireworks.
Gilbert had 130 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries in his final game for the Golden Eagles. Scott completed 14 of 19 passes for 123 yards and a score in his final Athens performance.
“That's the end for this team, and that's a special team,” Gross said. “It hurts like crazy right now, but in a few weeks, some of that will subside a little bit and we'll look back and see the great things we did. I'm just thankful for these young men and the effort they've given Athens High School.”