When the Bulldogs took over on downs with 23 seconds left in the game, cheers rang from the stands and sideline.
Quarterback Joey Moore lined up in victory formation and took a knee. He held his hands in the air and celebrated with his teammates. Athens looked not only happy, but relieved after its first win of the season - a 28-6 final over conference rival Alexander.
“A lot of competitive people talk about how they hate losing more than they love winning,“ coach Nathan White said. “I don’t know, man. A win feels good.”
This win, both Athens and White’s first of the season, was one that’s been coming after opening the season winless.
For the second game in a row, Athens (1-3, 1-0 TVC-Ohio) scored on its opening drive. The Bulldogs scored in just seven plays and the drive was capped off by a six-yard Moore touchdown run.
He looked confident against the Spartans in the first quarter. On his second drive, just four minutes after his first touchdown, Moore completed a pass to Brayden Markins for 46 yards and the score. Markins led all receivers with 112 yards on five receptions.
Not only did Moore appear confident on the ground, but he looked the part through the air too. The junior went 14-for-19 on 242 passing yards and two touchdowns — his second connection to Braden Halbert for 41 yards.
The Bulldogs sat with a comfortable 21-0 lead over the Spartans (3-1, 0-1 TVC-Ohio) at halftime — the first time Athens left an opponent scoreless in the first half this season.
Athens defense, which had let in 103 points through the first three games, looked like they fixed mistakes on defense seen in the previous three weeks. There were few missed tackles or huge runs allowed against a run-heavy Spartans offense.
Defensively, Athens’ biggest challenge was stopping quarterback Kaleb Easley and running back Jordan Cantrell. Cantrell finished with 95 rushing yards on 14 attempts while Easley added 79 rushing yards on 26 carries. The team’s only touchdown came halfway through the third quarter.
“I knew they were pretty good, and we saw tonight that they’re really physical,“ White said. “Their quarterback is just kind of slippery. He’s tough to tackle and then you get him in the open field and he’s got some shake to him too.”
Though the Bulldogs made big plays on both sides of the ball, penalties played a big role in the game. Athens’ 13 penalties gave up 120 yards to the Spartans.
The game was far from perfect, but a win for the Bulldogs gives them the momentum they’ll need going forward in the TVC-Ohio this season. Athens hits the road next week to take on the Vinton County Vikings.