By: Chance Cook | Towanda Daily Review | October 31, 2015 | Photo courtesy Chance Cook
ATHENS — A 219-yard and two-touchdown passing exhibition from Athens' quarterback Aaron Barry would overshadow Ben Sherman's 217 yards on 32 carries for the Trojans as the Wildcats left Alumni Stadium atop the NTL with a 17-7 win, while Troy left thinking this one might have slipped through their fingers.
Though Athens held a 10-0 advantage, all the momentum seemed to be on the side of Troy after forcing the Wildcats to turn the ball over on downs at the Trojan 16 yard line with nearly the entire fourth quarter left to play.
On the ensuing Troy possession Sherman finally broke a string of short gains with huge bursts of 24 and 17 yards respectively, but after working down to the Wildcats' 21-yard line, a miscue on the handoff would lead to a Troy turnover — the fifth one of the night — and this time Athens would take advantage.
"We knew (as a defense) there would be times where they would drive on us," Athens coach Jack Young said. "We just had to be patient and come up with plays, and that’s what we did all night."
Six plays into the Wildcats' ensuing possession Barry found Kalen Keathley across the middle. Keathley shook a host of defenders, dashing to a 61-yard score with just 5:53 left on the clock.
Troy would finally get on the board on a Sherman carry with 4:45 left to play, however after Athens recovered an onside kick attempt, the damage had been done and the result etched in stone as Athens ran out the clock, outlasting Troy for the league title.
"It's unbelievable," Barry said of winning the title.
"Words can't even describe it," added Austin Lister, who caught five passes from Barry for 84 yards. He also booted a 35-yard field goal in the third frame to put Athens up two scores. "I love this quarterback, I wouldn't want anyone else throwing me the ball."
Despite the score, Troy was very much alive and in a position to make a charge at the Wildcats until the waning moments. The score was even at zero through one quarter, and after Athens took the first lead of the game with Barry finding Luke Newman for an 8-yard score, the Trojans looked primed to even the score midway through the second quarter.
Sherman took a sweep and settled in the back field, launching a pass down field for a streaking Alex Butcher. Butcher caught the ball and proceeded to the 10 yard line, where Keathley recovered from his beaten defensive back position to strip and claim the ball, accounting for one of the five Troy turnovers and keeping Troy scoreless heading into the half.
"He realized he got beat and did everything he could," Young said of Keathley. "He's a playmaker."
In all Troy was penalized nine times for 80 yards. Coupled with the turnovers, the Trojans felt this may have been their game to lose. Instead of raising another league banner back in Troy, coach Jim Smith said his side will hope to see Athens again down the line.
"We have an issue sometimes keeping our heads," Smith said. "We played solid defensively... had chances to put points on the board and just didn't."
Athens is now 8-1 as Troy falls to 6-3 with one week remaining before the postseason.
For the Wildcats, Zack Jayne carried the ball 18 times for 48 yards, Peyton Lewis carried six times for 14 yards and Keathley hauled in six passes for 150 yards and recorded an interception on defense.