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Between the Lines: Athens football victory a night to never forget

It’s 10:43 on Friday night and I am trying to find words to define what this means. 24-21. First undefeated football season in school history. First outright league title since 1968. First win over archrival Nelsonville since 2003. A home playoff game this Friday. One of the highest attendances in Basil Rutter Field history. However you look at it, this day is local sports history.

I have been sick with mono for almost three weeks and as this day neared, I realized I would not be able to attend the game in person. I cannot say I am the most faithful football fan at Athens High School by any means, but that game was truly important for school history.

Sitting in my living room, I listened as the game was called on the radio and almost turned it off going into halftime. Athens was up 21-0, but Nelsonville wasn’t giving up. By the end of regular play, the two teams had tied 21-21 and I was in shock.

It felt like last year all over again. It felt like we were headed toward another heartbreak.

But Athens pulled it out. After senior Mitch Rider intercepted Nelsonville deep in Buckeye territory, the Athens offense showed up and moved the ball almost to the Nelsonville goal line. Then senior Seth Brooks, an Athens soccer player who walked on the team two days before the game, kicked the game-winning field goal.

As I listened to the final score being announced over the noise of a cheering crowd, all I could do was smile. I can only imagine what the mood at the stadium was like. I imagine there were cheers, tears and a sense of shock at what had been achieved. I only wish I could have been there to capture that image in my head.

For me, it was the Athens version of Remember the Titans. Many did not predict that Athens would win, especially in the style they did. It was said the Bulldogs could not beat the perennial Athens County power.

But none of that fazed the Athens football players. They played their hearts out and finally overcame the seemingly unbeatable Nelsonville-York Buckeyes, along with so many other achievements and awards.

But the victory does not only belong to the players. It belongs to the coaches who dedicated countless hours to the success of their players. It belongs to school administrators who made the responsible decision of investing in the football program through ways other than cutting academic programs. It belongs to the students and fans at AHS who strongly supported the team all season.

And it belongs to members of the community who worked so hard last year to repair, rebuild and restore the field at AHS after it was devastated by a tornado. To the people who spent countless hours working to bring the state-of-the-art facility at AHS to fruition in less than one year.

So why does the win truly matter? Because that win means more than finally beating a rival. It means more than getting into the playoffs and a night of celebration. It is a testament to the hard work and teamwork of the Athens community. It shows that good, caring people do exist and they are all around us.

So then what will be remembered? Most will remember the undefeated season. Many will remember the tornado and how the community came together to overcome the challenges the storm presented. Some might even remember the specific individuals that made the miracle possible.

But as I sit here watching the St. Louis Cardinals completing one of the greatest comebacks in baseball history, it makes me think that in some small way, the Bulldogs are much like the Cardinals. They both overcame adversity and achieved unbelievable comebacks.

But what sets Athens apart, and the thing I hope is remembered the most, is the fact that beating Nelsonville was a community achievement. It was the epitome of a year of recovery from devastation to the height of success. It was a win and a season that should be remembered for how the school and the community rallied around the team — and the fact the players took that support to heart and worked their hardest all season long.

It’s 11:32 p.m., and most of my friends are celebrating in a state of euphoria while I am trapped at home on the couch. But I’m O.K. with that, because tonight I am the proudest of my high school and my community that I have ever been.

Most of America will remember tonight as the night the Cardinals staged their comeback. But I will always remember what my high school achieved by working together. I will remember what those I know and don’t know around Athens did to make it possible. I will always — Remember the Athenians.

Will Drabold is a senior at Athens High School taking classes at Ohio University and a writer for The Post. If you were at the game,

email him at dd195710@ohiou.edu.

 

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