Athens coach Ryan Adams is fully aware of the challenge his Bulldogs will face Friday night.
“Don’t worry about overconfidence,” Adams said about his message to his team. “I think more than anything else you take the approach of trying to be a giant-killer.”
The “giant” Athens will try to slay is the No.1 seed Bishop Hartley Hawks — who have won two state championships in four years.
Athens snuck into the Division III Ohio High School Football Playoffs with a near-perfect record and a Tri-Valley Conference-Ohio championship. The Bulldogs were dominant all season, but a weak schedule locked Athens into the eighth seed — and into a road match-up with Bishop Hartley.
Athens (9-1) will be an underdog when it makes the trip to Columbus. The Bulldogs haven’t faced a team as strong as Bishop Hartley this season, but while the Hawks are difficult to play, they aren’t unbeatable.
Bishop Hartley (8-2) is coming off of its worst offensive performance of the season. A 6-3 win over rival St.Charles was the only time the Hawks were held to single digits this year. The Hawks averaged 34.2 points per game this season, while Athens only has given up 16.2 points per game.
The Hawks are led by quarterback Miles Fleming. Fleming has a solid arm but is also one of Bishop Hartley’s best runners.
For Athens to win, it will have to play its best game of the season. Adams said that the team will watch more film than it has all year. Hartley will give the Bulldogs different looks, and Adams said that while he’ll be able to see what’s coming, it only matters if everyone on the field can see it coming as well.
This is unfamiliar territory for the Bulldogs. When Athens last made a playoff run, this season’s senior class was in the eighth grade. Adams is just happy that his team will have an opportunity to experience playoff football.
“I’m just tickled to death that these group of kids get to go experience it,” Adams said. “It is something that’s truly special, but the best part for me, and I think the staff, is the fact that we get to spend another week with them.”
The winner of Friday’s game will face the winner of Eastmoor Academy and Hillsboro.