By Michael V. Hannigan

QUINLAN — Their backs weren’t just against the end zone, they were against the wall.

In a must-win game to stay in the playoff hunt, Athens Hornet Cam McDonald picked off Quinlan Ford quarterback Rowdy Rowan with less than a minute to play to preserve a 34-28 road win Friday night.

The win improves Athens’ record to 5-3, 1-2 on the year while Ford fell to 4-4, 0-3.

This game was billed as a virtual playoff game with both teams desperate for a district win, and although it was a rainy, muddy mess from the start, the action lived up to the hype.

Twice the Hornets started to pull away from the Panthers, starting the game with a 13-0 lead and then going ahead 34-14 by the end of the third quarter.

Ford wouldn’t go away quietly in front of its home fans, however, and fought back with the help of some very good field position.

But the Hornets made the big plays when they were needed and none were bigger than McDonald’s interception on Athens own 4 yard line with :52 seconds left to seal the win.

Next week the Hornets will travel to Mabank, who lost to Waxahachie Life Friday, 37-28. Mabank is 6-2, 1-2 on the year.

Michael’s Notebook:

– Big plays were key in this seesaw contest and the Athens Hornets made more. The Hornets had six explosive plays for 20-plus yards on the night while the Panthers only had one.

– The Hornets two big play machines were Jerquindon Taylor and Nathan Sims. Taylor had four explosive plays and finished the night with 140 yards rushing and a touchdown. Sims had two explosive plays and finished with 160 yards and two scores.

– As you would expect on a rainy night, turnovers were a problem and the Hornets lost two fumbles. But Athens won the turnover battle 3-2 and in addition to Cam McDonald’s interception, the Hornets got fumble recoveries by Derek Killingsworth and Nathan Sims.

– The Ford Panthers really benefited from good field position Friday night. Three of their four scoring drives started in Athens territory, including one that started on the Athens 10 yard line. The Hornet defense was able to hold the Panthers to 1-for-6 on drives that started in Quinlan territory.

– On the other side of the ball, Athens did not benefit from good field position. Not one Hornet drive started in Panther territory.

– I want to give a hat tip to the Hornet offensive line. I think the Panthers rolled out a completely different defensive line alignment Friday night and the Athens OL was able to adjust and give the running backs room to run. Good job in the trenches.

– DID YOU SEE: Big Garrett Hayes track down the Panther quarterback on the sideline in the fourth quarter? It is almost unfair to be that big and that fast at the same time.

– Scoring summary:

  • A – Chase Friedrich 13-yard pass to Cam McDonald. Kick good. 7-0. (8:06 1Q)
  • A – Jerquindon Taylor 34-yard run. Kick no good. 13-0. (6:06 1Q)
  • F – Cayson Hoff 10-yard run. Kick good. 13-7. (:37 1Q)
  • A – Nathan Sims 21-yard run. 2pt attempt fails. 19-7. (7:43 2Q)
  • F – Kaiden Roden 15-yard run. Kick good. 19-14. (:45 2Q)
  • A – Nathan Sims 17-yard run. Chase Friedrich 2pt run good. 27-14 (6:08 3Q)
  • A – Chase Friedrich 16-yard run. Kick good. 34-14. (1:05 3Q)
  • F – Kaiden Roden 4-yard run. Kick good. 34-21. (8:14 4Q)
  • F – Rowdy Roden 10-yard run. Kick good. 34-28. (5:42 4Q)