Athens comes from behind to beat Bullard, 42-35

Hornets converted on two big 4th down plays when it really mattered.

By Michael V. Hannigan

The Athens Hornets came from behind to beat Bullard Friday night, 42-35.

With 1:23 left before halftime, Bullard led Athens 28-14. From that point on, however, the Hornets outscored the Panthers 29-7 and found the end zone on four consecutive possessions.

Coach Zac Harrell has said multiple times his staff consider third and fourth down conversions the key to the game, and that proved to be true Friday.

The play to put the Hornets in the lead came early in the fourth quarter on a fourth and seven from the Bullard 23 yard line with the score tied at 35-35. On the play, Jerquindon Taylor started around right end with the ball and reversed it to River Perkins. Perkins then pitched the ball back to quarterback Chase Friedrich, who threw deep to Nathan Sims for the touchdown.

It was one of two crucial 4th down conversions for the Hornets in the second half, the other coming on Athens’ final possession to help run out the clock.

On the other side of the ball, the Hornet defense was able to stop the Panthers on third and fourth down from the Athens 21 late in the fourth quarter on what turned out to be Bullard’s final possession of the game.

Those two fourth down conversions for the Hornet offense, and third and fourth down stops for the Hornet defense, were the difference in the game.

With the win, Athens improves to 4-1 on the year. Bullard fell to 1-4.

The Hornets will be off next week. In two weeks, Athens will begin district play on the road at Waxahachie Life.

Michael’s Notebook

— The Hornets actually scored on two fourth down plays. The one detailed above and on their first touchdown of the night, a 43-yard catch and run by Cam McDonald from Chase Friedrich.

— What an amazing job by the entire offense — players and coaches — on the scoring drive right before halftime. Down two scores, Athens really needed something to happen, but had the ball on their own 32 with just 1:23 on the clock and no timeouts. They drove the length of the field in 11 plays and scored with 5 seconds left before the half. Incredible job of clock management.

— Did you notice there were very few penalties and no turnovers in the game? A real rarity regardless of whether you are playing on Friday night, Saturday or Sunday.

— Bullard must have been shocked when the Hornets unleashed Nathan Sims in the second half. The Panthers had kept the junior running back in check in the first half with just 19 yards on six carries. But Sims exploded in the second half for 104 yards on 13 carries and two touchdowns, plus a 23-yard touchdown catch. On the first drive of the third quarter, Athens handed the ball to Sims four straight plays. The result was a 49-yard touchdown drive that got Hornet fans excited.

– I thought Jerquindon Taylor had what seemed a quiet night by his standards, but then I looked down at the stat sheet. He had 85 yards rushing and 48 yards receiving for 133 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown catch with just :05 remaining in the first half. Oh, and he also threw a pass to Chase Friedrich for a 2-point conversion. If that’s a quiet night, I’ll take it every week.

– Let’s hear it for the Hornet defense. They struggled in the first half, letting Bullard score on three consecutive possessions. But they pulled it together in the second half and were able to make big stops when they needed it.

— Good night for quarterback Chase Friedrich. For the second week in a row, he showed the ability to be a weapon running the ball. Friedrich rushed for 78 yards and a touchdown and also threw for three TDs.

— Give credit where credit is due: Bullard quarterback Tristen Shewmaker is a heck of a player. He was pretty good throwing the ball, but he was a real danger running. He rushed for 158 yards on the night and was the Panther’s best player.

— Bullard also did really well returning kickoffs. The Panthers scored on one kick return in the first half and were able to get good field position at other times.

— Did you notice Arkansas Head Coach Chad Morris standing on the Athens sideline in the second half?

(Follow me on Twitter @mvhannigan)

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