Going into last week’s game against River Valley, it looked liked Athens would barely miss the playoffs yet again.
The Bulldogs sat at 7-1, clearly on the outside of Division III Region 11 playoff picture with less than a 30 percent chance of qualifying for the postseason, according to Drew Pasteur’s projections. The Bulldogs knew it didn’t look well for them, so they celebrated their 55-16 victory on senior night as if it was one of their last.
The senior class was bound to miss the playoffs with a winning record for the fourth consecutive year. The harsh reality read records of 6-4 in 2015, 7-3 in 2016, 8-2 in 2017 — and now 2018.
But something changed in the Region 11 playoff picture over the weekend following the River Valley result. And it wasn’t the Athens victory that changed it.
Two teams that had previously stood in front of Athens in the rankings — Bellefontaine and Columbus St. Francis DeSales — both lost. Athens also picked up some crucial second-level points to surge into seventh in the Division III Region 11 rankings.
Now going into the season finale with rival Nelsonville-York, Athens, has a 59 percent chance of qualifying for the postseason, and a 76 percent chance of qualifying with a win; according to Drew Pasteur’s projections.
The Bulldogs have new life.
Athens (8-1, 5-0 Tri-Valley Conference) can also clinch the outright TVC title when it travels to Nelsonville-York (4-5, 4-1 TVC). Athens has already clinched at least a share of the TVC championship, but Nelsonville-York can also secure a share if it can win this week.
There’s much more than just the conference title on the line, though.
The Buckeyes are ranked 12th right now in the Division VI Region 23 rankings with just an 11 percent chance of qualifying for playoffs, according to Drew Pasteur’s projections. But a win against the Bulldogs would increase the Buckeyes’ chances to 50 percent and automatically put them back in the playoff hunt.
A loss for the Bulldogs would mathematically eliminate them from playoff contention.
This senior class of Bulldogs haven’t defeated the Buckeyes since their freshman season. The Buckeyes won last year’s matchup 52-26 and the 2016 matchup 41-24.
“We’re very focused for this week especially because I think it’s about time that we beat Nelsonville,” Bulldog senior Evan Adams said. “It’s been too long and I’m very much looking forward to this matchup.”
The Bulldogs rank fourth in the state in offense, scoring an average of 40.6 points per game according to highschoolball.com. The Buckeyes, on the other hand, have only averaged 23.6 points per game.
But the firepower of the Buckeyes’ offense, led by junior All-Ohioan Keegan Wilburn, makes up for that statistic.
“Well certainly, we got to find a way to neutralize Wilburn,” Athens coach Ryan Adams said. “He’s definitely a special talent — the kind of speed that he does possess makes him a threat at all times. We’re going to take a hard look at how we want to try to slow him down.”
Although many have described it as a “down year” for them, the Buckeyes shouldn’t be taken lightly.
The Buckeyes have faced a tougher schedule that has featured better defenses than that of the Bulldogs’. They have lost to two teams with 6-3 records and two teams with 8-1 records.
The Bulldogs have no plans of taking the Buckeyes lightly and realize what’s at stake this week.
“We’re going to be taking a hard look on how we can best dissect their defense in order to take advantage of them and if nothing else, outscore them,” coach Adams said.
Friday’s kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Boston Field at Nelsonville-York.
“We’re excited for the challenge,” Adams said. “I know this group of senior boys are very excited about the game.”