BIDWELL — As Nate Trainer fielded a forty yard punt, the Bulldogs' sideline came to life, running stride-for-stride with Trainer as he made his way down the field.
Trainer made the first defender miss as he picked up speed, running towards midfield. For a split second, it looked as if Trainer was destined for the end zone.
Instead, a swarm of River Valley defenders were able to get their hands on Trainer, ripping him to the ground. The Raiders' defensive effort stopped a touchdown. The Bulldogs found themselves aligned with perfect field position for a scoring drive, however — a theme that would continue throughout the night.
“(Field position has) been a huge thing for us all season long,” coach Ryan Adams said.
Last week, Athens benefited from strong special teams plays that set up scoring drives. This week, the defense combined with the special teams to assist the offense.
With River Valley backed up in its own end zone, their only option was to run the ball on third and long. As the ball was handed off, the Bulldog defensive line stood strong, moving the offensive line and ball carrier back two yards.
The defensive stand resulted in a Raiders punt from their own end zone. The punt traveled thirty-five yards, but it was not enough to keep the Bulldogs away from the Raiders side of the field.
“It starts with the relentless pursuit of the ball our defense has been able to do,” Adams said.
The excellent starting field position led to junior running back Evan Adams’ second touchdown of the night.
A pair of Athens interceptions put an end to any comeback attempt for River Valley.
Both Trainer and Tanner Tritipo took advantage of a backup quarterback situation for the Raiders. Their interceptions set the the Bulldogs up for rushing and receiving touchdowns from Treyce Albin that put the game out of reach and gave the Bulldogs a dominant 39-7 win.
Athens was successful, in large part, because of its ability to sustain a consistent performance on all sides of the ball for four quarters on Friday night — a formula the Bulldogs will need to bring with them next Friday, when they take on Nelsonville-York for the Tri-Valley Conference Ohio division title.
“These kids are mentally prepared to play for four quarters,” Adams said.