Athens entered this season with many questions surrounding its roster. It needed to replace seven All-Tri-Valley Conference players and its offensive and defensive players of the year.
The Bulldogs have a new quarterback under center in junior Joey Moore, a dual threat quarterback who spent most of last season playing wide receiver and free safety. The junior signal caller looked comfortable leading the Bulldogs in his first action under the lights despite a 30-27 loss to Waverly on Friday at Tiger Stadium.
A few short weeks ago, however, that was not the case for Moore. “Our first scrimmage against Trimble I was really nervous. Today, I came in … I felt really comfortable,” Moore said.
For a new quarterback at the varsity level, the Athens offense is relatively complex. The Bulldogs run a spread offense that features 10 personnel on the majority of the snaps. This means there are four wide receivers and one running back who stands adjacent to the quarterback in the shotgun.
The Bulldogs may come out in a twin receiver set and end up in a bunch formation before the ball is snapped. Everything is on the shoulders of Moore to make sure all 11 players are where they need to be.
The other half of Moore’s battle is reading the defense. Along with the pre-snap motions, Athens utilizes many run-pass option concepts. This means the quarterback must read the defense — typically the outside linebacker — to determine where he should go with the ball.
In the first half, the offense clicked on all cylinders. Moore made quick reads as the play calls featured an even mix of run and pass plays. Four of the Bulldogs’ seven offensive drives went for touchdowns.
Moore recorded three passing touchdowns. His debut under center was going smooth, and Athens led 27-17.
But they didn’t find the end zone the rest of the night.
“We adjusted at halftime, and I don’t know that a lot changed in the second half besides some execution,” White said.” We still went on some drives, and they made some big plays defensively, and I would love to have a few of those calls back regarding offensive plays.”
The momentum shifted with three minutes left in the third quarter when Waverly’s Peyton Shoemaker made multiple Bulldogs miss before diving into the end zone to cut Athens’ lead to 27-24.
The shift continued as senior receiver Nate Trainer, who is the only returning all-TVC player for Athens, left the game with a cramp on the ensuing drive.
Any momentum left for Athens disappeared with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter, as Moore would have his pass intercepted by Waverly linebacker Zeke Brown, who returned it to the Athens 40-yard line. The Tigers drove down the field and relied on the shifty Shoemaker to make defender after defender miss. He found the end zone with seven minutes remaining to make it 30-27 Waverly.
The Waverly band blasted “Hey! Baby” as the stadium erupted for the first time since the opening kickoff. The Tigers were alive.
The game was sealed on a fourth-and-1 stop by Waverly with three minutes remaining, and players on the sideline stormed the field in celebration.
Moore finished the night 24-of-38 for 278 yards and a touchdown. The dual threat quarterback also had 26 carries for 60 yards. Athens would total 447 yards of offense.
It wasn’t the result Athens hoped for in Moore’s debut, but there’s plenty of optimism for Moore. The season is still early, and there’s still nine games left to play.
“Joey’s skill set fits that type of (spread) offense, and we feel like we have some pretty good athletes on the edge,” coach Nathan White said. “So we’re going to try to have a lot of moving parts and try to get the ball in a lot of different kids’ hands.”
Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled All-Tri-Valley Conference.