Nate Trainer sat in front of the Bulldogs’ end zone at the end of the game. He kept his helmet on and his head down while he was comforted by his teammates.
As he got up to leave, Nathan White stopped Trainer and pulled him into his arms. The coach embraced his player in an emotional moment and spoke words of encouragement to a deflated senior.
“He told me that he loved coaching me this year,“ Trainer said. “I told him I wouldn’t want to play for anyone else.”
For the Bulldogs’ seniors, reality had set in. Their time as Athens football players had come to an end.
The Bulldogs did their best to keep their heads up after a hard-fought 35-28 loss to the Nelsonville-York Buckeyes Friday night. Athens walked away with a share of the TVC-Ohio championship, but sharing it with its rival on senior night left a bitter taste in its mouth.
The loss also signified the end of White’s first season as coach for the Bulldogs — a season with a multitude of challenges and setbacks in itself. Athens’ winless three weeks to open the season and a Week 6 loss to Logan left a lot of skepticism as to how it would finish the season. The Bulldogs, however, continued to fight throughout the season for five wins and a consecutive conference championship.
While the season may not have been what the Bulldogs (5-5, 5-1 TVC-Ohio) pictured, the success they found can be credited to two things: White’s optimism and the team’s resilient effort.
“I’m so happy that they were my first group,“ White said. “Certainly not the record that we hoped for at 5-5, but to be 100 percent honest, I wouldn’t trade it. I love these kids, and I’m so proud of the way they showed up every day with the right attitude and effort.”
That effort was on display against the Buckeyes (7-3, 5-1 TVC-Ohio) late in the game Friday night.
Despite a relatively stagnant offensive performance in the first three quarters, the Bulldogs continued to fight. Athens was down by three scores halfway through the third quarter as it watched the Buckeyes tear its defense apart. A touchdown pass from Joey Moore to Braeden Halbert, however, sparked a comeback with the Buckeyes leading 28-14 at the end of the third.
Halbert’s 28-yard reception for a touchdown cut the deficit to just one possession early in the fourth, but the Buckeyes refused to give up the lead. Mikey Seel’s last touchdown run made things seem out of reach as the Bulldogs trailed 35-21, but Joey Moore would answer back with a touchdown run of his own.
An interception late in the game put Athens away, but the effort displayed by the Bulldogs was a reflection of their season as a whole.
Even when the Bulldogs had the odds stacked against them this season, they remained confident in their effort and fought to the best of their abilities.
White pushed his team to give their best every time they stepped on the field, and despite the outcome, he felt that his team had done just that.
“I really hope we can springboard off of this and get this program rolling again,“ White said. “I’m going to spend a lot of time within the next month or so and really evaluate what I think we did well and what we need to work on. That includes myself as a head coach.”