BROWNSBORO — Well that was fun, Hornet fans.
The Zac Harrell era started off with a bang Friday night as Athens beat Brownsboro, 33-14, to take home the Highway 31 Championship trophy.
The offensive fireworks were provided by Jerquindon Taylor, who scored four of the Hornets’ five touchdowns, including three on passes from quarterback Chase Friedrich.
But it was the defense stepping up in the second half that turned a 14-12 deficit into a win for Athens. After giving up Bear touchdowns on two of three drives in the first half, the Hornets shut out Brownsboro in the second half.
The Athens defense forced two punts and shut down the Bears on two fourth down attempts on Brownsboro’s four second half drives.
The key series happened early in the fourth quarter after the Hornets had taken a 19-14 lead on a Jecorey Roberts 3-yard touchdown run.
Facing 4th and long from their own 38, the Bears decided to go for it but the pass attempt was broken up by Hornets Cam McDonald and Caleb Bennett. On the very next play, Taylor took a reverse pitch around left end for a 38-yard score to push the lead to 26-14 and Athens never again trailed.
So as the celebration continues for Harrell’s first win as a head coach, here is what I saw from the sidelines.
— Before I talk about anything in the game, I have to talk about what happened after the game when Brownsboro Head Coach Greg Pearson brought the two teams together near midfield. Pearson congratulated the Hornets and Coach Harrell on his first win and then led both team’s in the Lord’s Prayer. It was a moment of true class and leadership from Coach Pearson. We truly wish the Bears and their coach great success this season.
— Jerquindon Taylor was a monster for Athens. His four scoring plays went for a total of 207 yards. That includes catch and runs of 67, 30 and 72 yards and a 38-yard run.
— While Taylor had the flash, Jecorey Roberts and Nathan Sims provided the thunder. Unofficially (very unofficially) I have them with 78 and 64 yards on the ground respectively. The pair ran hard and particularly in the second half helped the Hornet offense control the game. And anytime you see multiple running backs having a nice night like that, you know the offensive line was doing its job.
— Quarterback Chase Friedrich had a good night running the offense and came away with stat line of 6-of-10 for 203 yards and three touchdowns. Great way to start the season for the senior QB.
— How much better was the Athens defense in the second half? In the first half, Brownsboro ran 31 offensive plays to Athens’ 18. In the second half, Brownsboro had only 20 offensive plays while Athens had 26. The Hornets’ ability to get the Bear offense off the field changed the game.
— But give credit to Brownsboro for playing tough and particularly senior RB Cole Williams, who gave the Hornets fits all night.
— There was one turnover in the game, a first quarter fumble recovery by Connor Clay that stopped the Bears initial drive deep in Athens territory.
— Holy Crowd, Batman … did you see how many Athens fans traveled to Brownsboro Friday night? The Hornet stands were packed and overflowing on both sides. I hope we see more of that this year.
— Did you notice Director of Bands Stephen Morman getting in a workout at the end of the game? Morman dropped down and knocked out 33 pushups while the band counted, one for every point the Hornets scored. Impressive, Mr. Morman. Impressive.
— I don’t know who made the call, but the decision to run Taylor on the reverse immediately after the 4th down stop early in the fourth quarter was a big-time call for the Hornets. It was all but over when Taylor scored.
— It can’t all be good, so did you notice that three of the timeouts called by Athens came immediately following kicks (two kickoffs, one punt)? I bet Coach Harrell has a discussion about that this week.
The Hornets will be home next week to take on Rusk at Bruce Field. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.