WYALUSING — The Athens Wildcats overcame a 16-0 halftime deficit, scoring three unanswered second half touchdowns to defeat the Wyalusing Rams 18-16 in NTL Large School football action Friday evening in Wyalusing.
After trading possessions and a turnover each, the first quarter ended without a score. On the second play from scrimmage in the second quarter, Wyalusing quarterback Shane Fuhrey broke loose on a QB keeper option and weaved through the entire Athens defense for a 63 yard score. Running back Brandon Dake was able to covert the two point conversion on a rush, his first of two on the night.
Athens responded with their own touchdown two plays later when Nick Watkins spun away from a defender on a short pass and scampered all the way to the end zone. But a late block in the back penalty was called, revoking the touchdown. Athens only mustered four more yards on the drive and four more on their next.
Wyalusing took advantage of the change in momentum and marched up field on the legs of Fuhrey. Once the Rams were inside the Wildcats’ 10 yard line they stalled. A Dake dive play and Fuhrey keeper couldn’t get them into the end-zone, so the Rams called a play action play on third down. Fuhrey faked a handoff then rolled out to his right and found his tight end Zach Bruyn wide open for a seven yard touchdown pass to make the game 14-0 Rams. Dake’s two point conversion rush gave Wyalusing a 16 point lead.
With only two minutes left in the half, Athens began to find their rhythm.
Athens ripped off five first down rushes and got as close as the Wyalusing two yard line, but couldn’t finish it off. Wyalusing was able to repel Athens’ Kaden Rude from pushing his line into the end-zone two times as the half expired with Athens still not on the board.
“I challenged a few guys at halftime, I challenged the whole team,” said Athens head coach Jack Young after the game. “I said if we don’t step up we could be mercy ruled. We talked about a few things at halftime and changed a few things with out pass protection and made some changes adjustment. I said it’s time to make some plays, and we came out and made some plays.
In the third quarter, after trading possessions to start, Athens was given great field position at Wyalusing’s 36 after a Wyalusing punt. Rude was able to find Aric Westbrook for five yards on a crossing route, then on the next play Rude decided to go back to the well. Rude connected with Westbrook again on a deep side line pass for a 31-yard touchdown. Westbrook would miss the extra point kick to make the game 16-6, Athens did not convert and extra point in the game.
In the fourth quarter, Athens’ special teams got involved.
Wyalusing’s focal point on offense, Fuhrey, went down with a leg injury in the third quarter and Wyalusing’s offense sputtered without him. On a fourth down in their own 21 yard line, Wyalusing went out for a punt. Athens’ defense was able to swarm the punter after the hike was muffed and sack him for an 11 yard loss and a turnover on downs.
Two plays later, Rude connected with Brayden Murrelle for a 13 yard touchdown pass to bring the game to 16-12.
Without their star quarterback, Wyalusing couldn’t get their next drive going and was forced to punt again from deep in their side of the field.
Instead of sacking the punter, the Athens special teams unit decided to wait a bit longer and just block their punt this time. Athens’ team captain Jared Williams was able to grab the ball and waltz into the end zone after Damien Hudson first picked up the ball and accidentally threw it over his own head.
It was all but the final nail in the coffin for Wyalusing. Replacement quarterback Mitchell Burke was able to get the offense moving on their next drive, but not far enough as Athens was able to wait out the clock and end the game, 18-16.
“A win is a win but god almighty they probably out coached us and out played us in a lot of ways,” said Young after the game. “I told the kids all week, they’ve kind of played a different defense every week this year. From watching them, I’m betting that they’re going to put nine or 10 guys in the box and we’re either going to have to run right at them or throw the ball. In the first half we couldn’t do either.”
Coach Young was impressed with the Rams’ squad and the way they played on Friday evening.
“(Wyalusing) is a scrappy bunch, their front line is a tough bunch. They play their asses off. My hat’s off to them. I hope that young man is going to be okay, and that he can come back and help them win some games this season. They outplayed us 1000 percent in the first half.”