Athens quarterback Joey Moore came running onto the field from his team’s huddle with 3:45 left in the fourth quarter against the Waverly Tigers.
On fourth-and-1 in Athens territory, Moore lined up in the backfield and took the snap, sprinted to his left and made a quick cut to the right. He put his head down and lowered his shoulder, only to be met by several Waverly defenders and came up just inches short of the first down.
The turnover on downs left the Bulldogs with nothing else to do but watch the clock flash triple zeroes. Waverly lined up in victory formation and handed Athens its first loss of the season, a 30-27 final in the first meeting between the two teams since 2012.
Athens (0-1) saw the debut of its new head coach Nathan White as well as Moore at the quarterback position.
In his first half as a starter, Moore threw three touchdown passes — a 33-yard haul from Reece Wallace, a 37-yard pass to Corbin Stadler and a 42-yard bomb to Braeden Halbert.
The Bulldogs’ spread offense allowed Moore to use his arm talent and connect with his receivers through screens and sweep plays, and early on, he showed off his running ability as well.
“I’m comfortable with it,” Moore said about his role in the offense. “I feel like I can make any throw on the field, and our offense is built to make the defense move: throwing slants and stuff like that.”
While Athens saw much success both on the ground and through the air in the first two quarters, its offense saw very little success in the second half. Not only were the Bulldogs shutout, but they gave up their 10-point halftime lead.
Waverly (1-0) took advantage of its workhorse and All-Ohio Second-Team selection Payton Shoemaker.
The senior running back lead the game with 201 rushing yards and four touchdowns — his most impressive was Waverly’s game-winning touchdown. He shed several Athens defenders and spun his way into the end zone to put the Tigers on top.
Shoemaker’s speed and shiftiness gave the Bulldogs fits throughout the night, as he broke poorly-executed tackles and had several breakaway runs.
The defense may have missed several crucial tackles down the stretch, but White said he was to blame for his defense’s inability to finish.
“We’re not in good enough shape,” White said. “We’re not quite tough enough yet, and those are things that go back to coaching, so that’s on my shoulders. Obviously, we want our kids to make tackles, but those were missed tackles because they were gassed and didn’t have enough left in the tank to tackle.”
For the first time in three years, Athens lost its season opener, but it’s still very early in the season. A 3-point road loss to a playoff-caliber Waverly team shows that Athens has a lot of potential moving forward.
The Bulldogs will return to R. Basil Rutter Field Friday in its home opener against Jackson. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.