By: Brian Fees | Towanda Daily Review | September 25, 2006
ATHENS - Friday's contest between North Penn and Athens was expected to be a hard-nosed affair.
The Panthers entered with the most-feared running game in the league and a defense known for shutting down the opposition.
Athens came into the game with its own plan: Beat North Penn at its own game. The Wildcats accomplished their goal, gaining 203 yards on the ground and holding the Panthers scoreless in the first half on their way to a 17-16 victory.
"It was a huge win; with our schedule we knew this week was huge," Athens coach Jack Young said. "We worked hard in practice this week. We haven't been a good practice team, but we had our best week of practice and it paid off. What a job our defense did today. They have a big, strong offense and we shut them down."
Defensively the Wildcats made one big play after another, while the offense did a good job running the ball and was able to capitalize on the Panthers' miscues.
Athens started things strong, scoring on the game's first drive.
After a big drive, keyed by a quarterback keeper by Shane Raupers, Davaun Stedge capped the opening drive with a 1-yard scoring run.
On North Penn's next possession, the Wildcats shut down the Panthers' offense and then the Athens special teams came up with a big play.
After a bad snap by the Panthers, Stedge was able to get in and make the tackle on North Penn punter Eli Morgan, who got off a punt straight up, which Athens caught at the 28-yard line.
The Wildcats wasted little time increasing their lead as Raupers broke to the outside and, after making a would-be-tackler miss at the 2-yard-line, he dove into the end-zone for a 4-yard touchdown.
"The defense is the main thing we worked on in practice this week," Stedge said.
Trailing 14-0 to start the second half, the Panthers wouldn't quit. Mark Fidler broke free for a 72-yard kick return, to put the Panthers in Athens territory, and Levi Weiskopff capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run, cutting the deficit to 14-7.
The score remained at 14-7 into the fourth quarter when Athens made a defensive stop, which sparked a drive deep into the Panthers' territory.
Facing a fourth-down inside the North Penn 10, Stedge found an opening and scored the touchdown, but a holding penalty brought back the score and left Athens facing a fourth and 9 at the North Penn 14.
The Wildcats chose to bring out the kicking unit and Raupers delivered with a 31-yard field goal with under seven minutes remaining to make the lead 17-7.
"It was the best kick; we have 100 percent confidence in him," Stedge said of Raupers.
"He's got a solid foot and we believe in him," Young said of his kicker. "That kick was huge for this game."
For Raupers all that was going through his mind was not missing the big kick.
"It was great. It was my first game-winning kick," he said. "I was just thinking let me make this."
After the field goal the Panthers took over and, facing a fourth-and-4, at midfield the Athens defense again came through with the big stop, taking over on downs.
After getting the ball back with 2:37 remaining the Panthers made another drive down the field and a pair of big Weiskopff runs set up a 12-yard touchdown pass from Justin Harris to Brian Strange with 1:49 left on the clock.
North Penn tried two onside attempts, but after getting called for false starts on each attempt it kicked away, pinning Athens at its 5.
"We made some mistakes on the day and they got two onside attempts and in the end I think it worked out the best they could have hoped for," Young said.
The North Penn defense came up with a big stop and Athens dropped back to punt from its own end zone with 34 seconds left on the clock.
Raupers took the ball in the end zone, ran 10 seconds off the clock and took the safety, setting up the kick with 24 seconds remaining.
"We figured it would help to get the extra 5 or 10 yards on our kick if we took the safety," Young said.
North Penn got the ball back at its 49 and after an 8-yard completion from Harris to Riley Bowen the Panthers took two shots at the end-zone, both of which came up short.
"It was a great team effort," Raupers said. "Everybody favored North Penn, but we wanted to send a message."
The Wildcats outrushed North Penn 203-156 and Nate Townsand led the way for Athens with 94 yards on 14 carries.
"We came in just ready to pound the ball," Stedge said. "Nate Townsand did an awesome job running the ball for us."
Stedge had 71 yards on 14 carries and Raupers gained 31 yards on seven attempts. Raupers completed two passes for 24 yards in the win.
North Penn got 73 yards from Bowen on the ground and 56 from Weiskopff, while Harris completed three of nine passes for 35 yards in the loss.
Athens travels to Tunkhannock next week, while North Penn will play host to Canton.