ATHENS – In another installment of Thursday night football at Alumni Stadium, the Athens Wildcats and the Wyalusing Rams cooked up a real barn burner that could have a been tale of two halves.
The teams lit it up in the first half, scoring a total of seven touchdowns, only to have the Rams shutout the Wildcats in the second half for a 36-29 victory. Mitchell Burke led Wyalusing, throwing for 401 yards and scoring four touchdowns.
It didn’t take long for Wyalusing to heat things up in on their first possession. After a six-yard run by Brian Arnold, Burke connected with Kashawn Cameron, who broke a tackle on the away sideline and scored on a 67 yards catch-and-run. Arnold punched in the conversion for an early 8-0 lead.
Athens responded quickly behind the running of Damian Hudson. Starting on their own 44, Hudson carried the ball four straight times with a final run of 28-yards for the score for an 8-7 margin.
It looked as though the defense would step up when the Wildcats sacked Burke for a five-yard loss, but Burke retaliated two plays later connecting with an uncovered Shane Fuhrey for a 77-yard touchdown strike. Burke then connected with Cameron for the conversion.
The Wyalusing defense made an appearance on Athens’ next possession. After freshman Mason Lister hit Keegan Rude for an 18-yard gain, Cameron intercepted Lister’s next offering.
Three plays later, Shayne Reid returned the favor, picking off Burke and returning the ball to the Wyalusing 13-yard line. On the next play, Reid, who took over for the injured Hudson, scored on a 13-yard scamper with three minutes left in the first quarter. The Wildcats attempted a two-point conversion, but Cameron broke up a pass intended for Rude.
After the teams failed to move the ball on consecutive possessions, the Rams took over on their own eight. After picking up a first down, Burke connected with Cameron once again. This time on a 79-yard heave from Burke for a 22-13 lead.
Not to be outdone in the scoring display, Troy Jennings fielded the Wyalusing kickoff and pitched the ball to Reid, who raced 76 yards along the home sideline. Caleb Nichols punched in the conversion as
Athens trailed the Rams by a point.
The Wildcat defense stopped the Rams on a four-and-out and Athens averted disaster after their punt returners collided, but Dylan Harford recovered the fumble at midfield. After run of nine and four yards by Nichols and Reid, the Wildcat o-line opened a gapping whole for Reid, who scampered 37 yards for the score. Reid ran the ball in on the conversion and Wildcats led 29-22.
The Rams moved the ball into the red zone before the half on a nifty hook and lateral from Burke to Fuhrey to Arnold, but Nichols snuffed out the drive with an interception to end the half.
The Wildcats failed to move the ball on their first possession of the second half, but their punt left the Rams pinned at the six. They left the shadow of their goal post on a 20-yard run by Arnold. Three plays later, Burke connected with Fuhrey for a 43-yard gain. With the Rams facing a fourth-and-eight, Cameron Martin sacked Burke.
Athens took over on downs, but Lister gave the ball back on the very next play on a fumbled exchange from the center and Wyalusing took advantage.
Burke found Fuhrey open at the four and somehow, after a blistering hit from Rude, Fuhrey held on for a 17-yard gain. Then Arnold moved the pile for a 4-yard score on the next play and the Rams were within one at 29-28.
Lister fumbled again on the Wildcats’ next possession as he attempted to elude the Wyalusing pass rush and Caden English recovered.
With the Rams facing a fourth-and-14 at Athens’ 24-yard line, Burke connected with Furhey only to be Rudely tackled just short the first-down marker.
The Wildcats then mounted a 14-play drive that was stymied by a relentless sack by Alex Mosier for a 10-yard loss, forcing Athens to punt.
Taking over on their 20, the Rams moved the ball downfield in methodical fashion. After two runs
for ten yards by Burke, Burke threw to Fuhrey’s back shoulder for a 32-yard gain. Then Burke hit Fuhrey again for a long touchdown strike that signified nothing as it was called back on an illegal shift.
Undaunted, Burke connected with Christopher Vaskas for 10 yards and Fuhrey for 14 more. Then Vaskas again for eight yards and Cameron for 12 to the one-yard line. Burke called his own number and scored. Arnold rumbled in for the conversion with 2:35 left in the game and 36-29 final tally.
The Rams ended the Wildcat hopes when Jacob Bruyn intercepted Lister.
Reid, who played sparingly in the second half due to injury, led the Wildcats with 97 yards on 13 carries, a 76-yard kickoff return, and an interception.
On the receiving end for the Rams, Fuhrey had six catches for 170 yards and Cameron had three receptions for 158 yards.
“It was probably a good game for the fans,” Athens’ coach Jack Young said. “We’ve got some people dinged up. We didn’t take care of the little things, especially in the second half. We gave up too many big plays in the first half and the second half had two straight possessions that we fumbled the ball. We can’t do that. We have to take care of business. To me, that’s the difference in the second half. It didn’t matter what happened in the first half, the second half we turned the ball over and they played inspired football.”