Athens is midway through the 2018 regular season, and things have been going smoothly so far. The Bulldogs are undefeated in the Tri-Valley Conference and boast a 4-1 overall record. While they prepare to continue their march towards the playoffs and a conference title, The Post will look at what’s gotten the Bulldogs to this point.
Here are five takeaways at the halfway point of the regular season:
Athens has a talented senior class, but two of its most explosive players are sophomores.
After a highlight-filled freshman year, Joey Moore (WR/FS) and Peyton Gail (WR/DB) entered the season with a lot of hype on their young shoulders. The duo’s dominance spawned whispers around the coach's room that they could’ve played varsity as ninth graders, but Athens coach Ryan Adams put an end to it.
“It takes a really special player to participate at the varsity level as a true freshman,” Adams said. “But the competitive spirit that those kids possess is what’s really given them the opportunity to play.”
But Gail and Moore haven’t just participated — they’ve dominated. While playing both ways, they each have managed to make an impact on both sides of the ball. Defensively, the two can come downhill and force turnovers, and on offense they have evolved into weapons for Athens quarterback Clay Davis.
“I knew they had it in them all year,” Davis said. “I knew what we had way back in the summer and I think everybody else just kind of now saw that.”
Evan Adams can see the light
If Davis, Moore and Gail are the racehorses of the Athens' offense, then running back Evan Adams is the workhorse.
Early in the season, Adams earned his reputation as a hard-nosed running back who could lower his shoulder and grind out four yards a carry. But over the past two weeks, he has shown impressive vision and an ability to make defenders miss in the open field.
“We’ve been trying to get his vision a little bit better to where he can see some things and not have to work so hard for some of those yards,” coach Adams said.
That drive for improvement has paid off for Adams. The 5-foot-10 senior recorded 20-plus yard touchdown runs two weeks in a row, even ripping off a 69-yard touchdown in last Friday’s 42-13 blowout win over Vinton County.
If Adams can continue to show off his shiftiness, it will allow the Bulldogs to open their playbook up and take pressure off the passing game.
Turning over the game
Turnovers have been a consistent problem for Athens but it's improving on that front. Athens only turned the ball over once against Vinton County last Friday and didn’t commit one turnover against Alexander. But prior to those games, Athens had turned the ball over ten times in its first three contests. The team’s lack of ball security played a major role in its only loss of the season to Fairland.
With the turnover issue improving, Athens can continue to stay out of its own way on the journey to a conference title. Athens is favorited in its remaining games, but it will still have to find a way to avoid beating itself.
Behind the likes of offensive weapons is an explosive offensive line that is the soul of Athens' offense. The Bulldogs' front five have held its own week after week and have played a big part in Athens' skill players producing the numbers that they do.
“With the guys up front doing what they do, there’s nothing this team can’t do,” Davis said.
A significant reason the Bulldog offensive line dominates the trenches each game is its depth as coach Adams talked about earlier in the season.
“We knew it was going to be a big strength for us coming in this year,” coach Adams said. “We got a lot of bodies in there that we can keep rotating in and out. We’re a good nine, 10 guys deep on the offensive line and seven, eight guys deep on the defensive line. Being able to rotate those guys and get good production out of all of them certainly is a big advantage when you’re trying to wear down another football team.”
One game at a time
Coach Adams and his staff have done a great job of building the right mindset into this Athens team this season — to focus only on what’s in front of them and not worry about the things they can’t control — such as the Division III, Region 11 playoff picture.
The Bulldog players live one week and one game at a time — only focusing on the opponent or play ahead of them. They preach that in every interview they give and question they answer. They don’t get distracted by playoff talk, the stock of their opponent’s schedule or anything like that. That’s something Bulldog fans must appreciate.