Joey Moore hiked the ball on Athens’ 3-yard line with seven seconds left in the game. He passed to Brayden Whiting on his right, who then tossed the ball backward to Landon Wheatley. Wheatley darted right and tossed the ball once again to Peyton Gail. Gail sprinted along the sideline before being taken down by the 35-yard line.
Fans groaned in disappointment. Athens’ trick play had failed.
The play was a last ditch effort to save the Bulldogs from back-to-back losses at Joe Burrow Stadium, but it wasn’t enough. To rub salt in the wound, Athens lost 24-20 to Marietta on senior night.
“You love being their head coach after a loss just as much as you do after a win because you get to see how much it matters to them,” coach Nathan White said. “You don't want to do anything but just hug them and tell them it's gonna be alright.”
It was an uphill battle for the Bulldogs (1-2, 1-1 TVC-Ohio). The Tigers (1-2) had beaten them in their previous four meetings, and the two haven’t played each other since 2007. It was unlike any TVC-Ohio game where Athens knew what to expect. Marietta is as foreign of a team as Athens had ever faced.
White never blames his players for losses. He blames himself and his coaches. Many of Athens’ starting offense are underclassmen, and White’s usual supplement to their inexperience is to focus on them more than the older players who have played varsity before.
Athens turned its attention away from offense at practice in the week before the game, and it suffered for that decision.
“I don't think we got enough reps in practice this week offensively,” White said. “We kind of stepped away from (offense) a little bit this week and I think that showed tonight."
Athens refused to let Marietta take the win without a fight. The Bulldogs were down by 16 points after halftime. By the middle of the fourth quarter, that lead was cut to four.
Moore was a commander on the field Friday, and he likes to lead by example. The senior quarterback had 55 rushing yards on 13 carries Friday, almost seven times as many yards as he had in his first two games this season combined. Moore was going to get the Bulldogs a win if he had to carry the offense himself.
Lucky for Moore he didn’t have to, and the offense caught the spark Moore lit. A 98-yard drive in the fourth quarter gave the Bulldogs hope that they might squeak out a victory. Moore threw over 60 yards on that drive alone. Moore ended the game 17-for-31 with 251 passing yards.
It was a start, but it was too late. Marietta held on to the ball until Athens was forced to go for an all-or-nothing pass.
Athens was 1-4 against non-conference opponents last season. It won’t get an opportunity to improve that this year. Marietta was their only non-conference opponent in 2020.
The Bulldogs have three games left in the season. Every win and loss matters twice as much, and their hopes for October football lay in how Athens recuperates from this loss.
“Anyone who has ever played this game knows this feeling,” White said. “A loss on Friday night is different than a lot of things and it’s not a great feeling.”