Athens running back Evan Adams rose from the grass of Farmers Bank Stadium on Friday night with grimace on his face. He turned toward the sideline, cleared a path for himself and quickly limped off the field.
With 11:08 remaining in the second quarter, everyone expected him to re-enter the game, but he never returned. The absence of the Bulldogs leading-rusher still didn’t prevent Athens from running over Meigs, 50-20.
“I kinda figured something was wrong with my leg from the beginning of the game,” Adams said. “It had been bothering me from the very first play.”
He had a right to feel bothered, the senior had dislocated his knee, after popping it back in place, Athens decided to keep its star ballcarrier out.
The Bulldogs amassed 350 yards on 50 carries on the ground and scored rushing touchdowns with three different players.
Athens (6-1, 3-0 Tri-Valley Conference) came into the game looking for its fifth-straight win and its 10th-straight over the Marauders (2-5, 2-2), but the blowout victory would take longer than expected to find.
Meigs offense scored first on the third play from scrimmage, Weston Baer caught the ball over his shoulder — and an Athens defender — in stride and scampered down the sideline for a 70- yard touchdown. It was strange for the Bulldogs to trail, they’ve only trailed for five percent (15 minutes) of their entire season.
Athens’ responded by turning the ball over three plays later when Adams was stripped muscling his way for more yardage. Athens wouldn’t miss having the football for long when two plays later, Logan Maxfield picked off Meigs freshman quarterback Coulter Cleland along the sideline.
Athens didn’t do much the next drive, but after forcing a three-and-out, the Bulldogs finally found themselves in the end zone. Clay Davis endured a frustrating drive that encountered penalties, bad snaps and dropped passes but ended with him stretched out in the end zone.
With the score tied at seven, Adams ran his final carry of the game early in the second quarter, but the Bulldogs didn’t panic, they just looked to the next man available.
“We all got to do our job,” said backup running back Nicholas Hawes who finished with 26 yards and two touchdowns.
Athens' offense struggled at first Adams absence, but its special teams picked up the slack. (WR/DB) Peyton Gail cemented himself as a three-way star blocking and recovering Matt Gilkey’s punt in the end zone, giving Athens its first lead of the night.
The punt block was Gail’s second on the year.
“We were all hyped and excited,” he said. “It set the tone for the rest of the game.”
After another Meigs’ three-and-out, Hawes scored his first touchdown since Week 1 — a 16-yard run.
On the next possession, on 3rd down, Cleland ball-stepped and shuffled his way out of the arms of an Athens defender before hitting Zach Bartrum down the field. That play would lead to an Abe Lundy 1-yard touchdown run.
Athens entered the half up 21-14.
Since Hawes also is a starting linebacker, coach Ryan Adams looked to junior Corbin Stalder to be the feature back in the second half and he delivered, after fumbling on his first carry.
“I haven’t been getting too many reps in practice,” Stalder said. “I had no idea I was going to play.”
Stalder finished with 61 yards and a touchdown.
Even though Meigs did its best to stay in the game, Davis killed all hopes with his second rushing touchdown, putting Athens up 22, protecting the decade-long win streak.
Davis was also a problem through the air throwing for 157 yards and a touchdown
The win extends Athens win streak, which protects its playoff chances. The Bulldogs return home for the first time in two weeks when they welcome Wellston to R. Basil Rutter Field on Friday.
Adams expects to be ready for next week’s game, but if not, the Bulldogs will still look to be dangerous on the ground.
“We’ll make sure we know what to do if we’re called upon,” Hawes said.