Athens enters Week 8 of its season with remaining uncertainty of making the playoffs.
Despite a five-game winning streak, the Bulldogs have slipped three spots in the last two weeks, going from seventh to 10th in the OSHAA Division III region 11 rankings. The top eight teams after Week 10 make the playoffs.
But while winning out won’t assure the Bulldogs a playoff berth, it will guarantee their first TVC Ohio title in four years.
And to Athens, that’s the only thing that matters.
“It’s all about a league championship,” coach Ryan Adams said. “We know if we don’t win this championship outright there’s no opportunity at all for the postseason.”
That championship-or-bust mentality could explain why Athens (6-1, 3-0 Tri-Valley Conference) has shown zero mercy for its TVC Ohio opponents. In all three conference games this season, the Bulldogs have secured the running clock mercy rule — a rule that’s instituted after a team reaches a 30-point lead.
Last week at Meigs, the rule wasn’t forced until there were two minutes left in the game. The Bulldogs had the win secured, but they made a successful two-point conversion by Peyton Gail.
“I wanted to get a running clock and finish the game,” Adams said. “I knew he wasn’t going to call (Meigs’ coach Mike Bartrum’s) dogs off at any point during the game, and I wanted to make sure that I sealed this win.”
The Bulldogs are three wins away from a conference title.
This week, Athens returns home to face Wellston (3-4, 2-1 TVC). The Golden Rockets lost to Nelsonville-York last week 31-20. Athens is favored to beat Wellston and its next opponent, winless River Valley, setting up an inevitable showdown with the Nelsonville-York for the TVC Ohio crown.
And the Bulldogs wouldn’t want it any other way.
“When I first took this job years ago, I had one goal in mind, and it was very important. That was to beat Nelsonville York,” Adams said. “If you look back to the 12 years, whoever’s got that Doc Turner trophy has typically been the league champion.”
But before Athens can look to the conference championship, it will have to deal with Wellston. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.