Nathan White walked his team to the end zone for their post-game huddle. White addressed his team with his arms folded and the biggest smile he’d shown all season.
The coach told his team how proud he was of them and the resiliency they showed in what was supposed to be their toughest challenge yet. Athens extended its undefeated streak in Tri-Valley Conference play with a 34-18 road victory over Wellston on Friday night, putting the Bulldogs in first place in the conference.
“I’m so proud of those kids,” White said. “Just pure guts. We cranked the tempo and they never tapped.”
After Wellston’s 36-7 win over Nelsonville-York a week ago, there was concern that the Bulldogs would be outmatched. Athens looked unfazed, however, by the Golden Rockets (6-2, 3-1 TVC-Ohio) and played its signature style of fast-paced, hard-nosed football.
Just as it had against Meigs last week, Athens (4-4, 4-0 TVC-Ohio) established its run game early and never looked back.
Within the first two drives alone, the Bulldogs converted seven first downs. A five-yard run from Corbin Stalder gave Athens its first touchdown of the night, capping off a 12-play drive.
The Bulldogs also saw the return of their leading wide receiver Nate Trainer.
Trainer was sidelined a week ago with a hip injury, but made up for lost time in his performance against the Rockets. The receiver lead the game with 91 receiving yards on eight receptions, and made an impact on the defensive side of the ball as well.
“They (Wellston) run the sweep play all the time,” Trainer said. “My job was just to get out there and make sure they didn’t bounce to the outside. I was just trying to match the physicality of the dude across from me and make plays.”
Quarterback Joey Moore had an efficient night as well. The junior went 14-for-21 with 206 yards and he rushed for 143 yards on 20 carries. Moore’s two touchdown runs were on designed quarterback keepers.
His success in the pocket, largely in part of an offensive line that gave him time to throw, resulted in two touchdown strikes through the air. A 31-yarder to Braeden Halbert and a 35-yarder to Stalder helped the Bulldogs stay on top of the Rockets.
Though it had its ups and downs, Athens’ defensive front played a solid game against the Rockets.
The Bulldogs’ defense held Wellston to 231 total offensive yards on 56 plays. Athens pressured Wellston quarterback R.J. Kemp and disrupted his offensive line, which forced him to make uncomfortable throws out of the pocket. Eventually, one of those throws made its way into the hands of the Athens defense when Braeden Halbert intercepted the ball for a 39-yard return.
Athens had its hands full, however, defending the run.
The Rockets’ backfield duo of Rylan Molihan and Johnathan Garvin gave them the little success they had offensively. Molihan finished with 109 rushing yards and two touchdowns, but Athens was able to fill gaps and make solid tackles that could’ve resulted in bigger gains.
With River Valley next week and Nelsonville-York in its final game of the season, Athens hopes to repeat as TVC-Ohio champions.
“If we wanted a shot to win the TVC, we had to win this week,” White said. “We’ve got two more weeks left so it’s going to be easy to get ready to roll again next week.”