Athens' Gauge Penrod's eyes were locked in on the football. The instant the ball moved, he exploded out of his three-point stance and began his hunt for the quarterback.
As Penrod shredded through his blocker, Parkersburg South quarterback Brayden Mooney instantly felt the pressure climb up his back, but he wasn’t fast enough to escape. He was quickly wrapped up and slammed into the turf as time ran out.
Mooney rose from the ground and walked to his sideline with his head tilted down. Penrod — dripping in sweat — laid on his knees with his gold helmet buried into the turf at R. Basil Rutter Field, while his team celebrated a 26-16 victory Friday night.
“I thanked God that it was over,” Penrod said.
Both Athens (2-1, 0-0 Tri-Valley Conference) and Parkersburg South (1-2) came into Friday hoping to bounce back from losses, and Athens used last week's loss as motivation.
“We’ve been thinking about last week all week,” Penrod said. “That was part of the reason we were so motivated to come out tonight.”
But Parkersburg South wouldn't go down easy. Athens struggled to put away the Patriots all night, starting from the very first snap.
Quarterback Clay Davis dropped back and threw an interception to Parkersburg South's Brett Hearn on the first play. The Patriots were unable to capitalize, and neither team had any success moving the ball the rest of the quarter. The only thing either offensive could muster was three-and-outs and turnovers.
After a physical, frustrating first quarter, Athens knew it would take more than motivation to win.
Athens was able to work through its slow start in the second quarter with the help of its defense. The Bulldogs caused two turnovers — a Braeden Halbert interception and a fumble recovery — which set up two of Evan Adams' three first half touchdowns.
Adams was unstoppable near the goal line. He was the Bulldogs most reliable weapon in the red zone. His longest TD run was only five yards, but Adams finished with 108 yards on 28 carries and four TDs.
“I like to get low and run over people.” Adams said.
Parkersburg South was able to keep the score close heading into halftime with a 45-yard TD run from Nick Yoho and 3-yard TD pass from Mooney to Hearn. After a back-and-forth quarter, Athens lead at the half 19-13.
The Bulldogs and the Patriots started the second half trading more turnovers. Parkersburg South was able to turn a Davis fumble into a 16-play drive that took up over six minutes but only produced three points. Athens went three-and-out on its next drive after a Nate Trainer touchdown was called back due to a holding penalty.
Athens entered the fourth quarter with a three-point lead and the pressure of having to contain the Patriots growing momentum.
With four minutes remaining in the game, Athens had yet to put away the Patriots. Parkersburg South was driving and was faced with a manageable fourth-and-1. The ball was snapped, and before Parkersburg South running back Mike McMullen had the chance to put his feet into the turf, he was being driven into the ground by Athens’ Peyton Gail.
The crowd erupted as Athens came out to start its drive on Parkersburg South’s 40-yard line. Gail was overwhelmed with emotion as he headed back to the sideline.
“Probably one of the greatest feelings I’ve had in a long time,” Gail said.
The Bulldogs went on to put together a 10-play, 3 1/2 minute drive that ended with Adams on his hip stretched across the golden end zone.
“It was a wash of relief, you know?” Adams said. “I felt I had to do it for my team, I knew if I got in the endzone we’d be done.”
Athens will look to stay in the win column when they start conference play next week at Alexander. Athens hopes to claim its first conference title since 2014.
But tonight, the Bulldogs are comforted by knowing their playoff hopes are still alive.
“We deserve to go to the playoffs, we deserve to win every other game,” Penrod said.