Peyton Gail squatted in Athens’ end zone, staring past the goal post. He realized the game was over, but he still had another half to play.
In the span of 13 seconds, the Bulldogs lost all hope of winning their playoff game against Western Brown. The Broncos had just scored and forced Athens to punt. Ishmael Young was forced back to the six-yard line, and Athens fumbled the play after. Western Brown recovered the ball in the end zone.
The Bulldogs were down four touchdowns before Athens knew it. The Bulldogs didn’t manage to score back until the fourth quarter. By then it was too late, and Athens lost 42-12.
“I wanted to give these guys a good last experience and make sure they took a second to realize how special this thing is,” coach Nathan White said. “You know, of course, you want to win that last game as a senior, but you know I was so proud of their effort tonight.”
White knew the game would be an uphill battle from the opening kickoff. Regular starting quarterback Joey Moore has been off the field since last week. Moore was pulled against Nelsonville-York due to what was later diagnosed as a broken collarbone.
In Moore’s stead, sophomore Landon Wheatley was forced to shift away from his normal position at receiver. Wheatley had a week to lead a team that was missing its best player.
For the time he had to prepare, Wheatley did his best. He finished the game 10-for-14 with 82 passing yards.
“Everything when we ran this week on offense was new,” White said. “Levi Neal and Luke Brandes played offense this week, and we had an entirely new offense this week. But Landon did a great job. He’s a tough kid.”
If there was one thing that stayed consistent Friday night, it was that Athens had its faith stacked on Peyton Gail, and the senior pulled his weight. Gail managed 113 rushing yards on 24 attempts Friday, his most in a single game all season.
Both the Bulldogs and Broncos relied so much on their run game that the game clock could barely keep up with them. The first half was over in 54 minutes, an unusually quick pace for a game. After a running clock was put in place in the third quarter, the game flew by. The second half lasted 39 minutes.
Despite the bitter loss, White never hit a low point Friday. His main goal was to help his team fight as best they could, despite injury and the odds against them.
“You never know when you're down 28-0 if your kids are going to pack it in and quit or if they're going to keep battling,” White said. “It was a great thing to see that they kind of forgot about the scoreboard and just kept battling. It’s great to get in there and put a couple touchdowns on the board. I think that's a pretty good way to finish.”