By: Matt Beltz | Towanda Daily Review | October 23, 2016
CANTON — Bad things happen to opposing teams if they let Athens' Kalen Keathley get loose. Canton found that out on the first play of the game on Saturday night.
Keathley returned the opening kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown and Athens never looked back as the Wildcats topped the Warriors 38-6.
"It was a good way to start the night and that's what we're trying to do with moving fast and getting the ball into our playmakers' hands and that was one way we do with Kalen," said Athens coach Jack Young. "It was a good, solid defensive performance and the offense and specials teams got the job done tonight as well."
Keathley finished with 218 all-purpose yards and a pair of touchdowns, adding another one in the second half. Zack Jayne also scored a pair of touchdowns, finishing with 80 yards on 16 carries, while Justin Reagan threw for 154 yards and two touchdowns.
With Canton still without leading rusher James Bowman, who was hurt against Sayre last week, the Warriors were able to move the ball a bit better than they were last week after Bowman left the game, but just weren't able to string together enough positive plays one after the other. Still, quarterback Ridge Moore threw for 144 yards and Levi Galotti caught eight passes for 102 yards. Gavin Hoffman showed some promise out of the backfield as he ran for 74 yards on 14 carries and scored Canton's only touchdown late in the fourth quarter as the Warriors avoided the shutout.
"I thought our defense played well, even though it didn't show on the scoreboard. We gave up a couple of big plays and offensively we moved the ball, but just not consistently," said Canton coach Tyler Sechrist. "We need to be able to sustain drives and that starts with our running game.
"We worked on some stuff with the running game but we still need a more consistent running game to make our passing game go. It'll be a late-week decision for whether or not he (Bowman) can return next week and if we don't have him next week, hopefully we will for the playoffs, but we need other guys to step up and fill in."
Despite the loss, Canton did lock up its spot in the District 4 Class A playoffs in two weeks with the results of this weekend's other games. The Warriors will face top-seeded Sayre in a rematch of a Week 8 game. Athens is also headed for the playoffs in Class 4A but those matchups haven't yet been determined.
After Keathley's kickoff return, Canton got a nice kickoff return of its own as Camden Smith returned it 39 yards to set up Canton in Athens territory. The Warriors then drove it all the way to the Athens 14 before turning back over on downs.
Faced with poor field position, the Wildcats then put together a 13-play, 86-yard drive that took up over six minutes that was capped by a 17-yard run by Jayne. Athens converted three third downs on the drive, including a key 12-yard reception by Mitch Kerrick.
Canton was unable to get back into Athens territory until late in the first half when a 29-yard scamper by Moore helped set up the Warriors at the Athens 20, but an offensive pass interference penalty killed the drive and Canton went into the half trailing 21-0. Athens had come up short on its next three drives after Jayne's first quarter touchdown, including a fake punt that Canton stopped, but went up by three scores with 3:20 left in the half on a 29-yard touchdown reception by Kerrick.
The first six second half drives ended with four punts and two interceptions for Canton, as the Warriors only ran four of 31 plays on those drives in Athens territory. By contrast, Athens scored on its first two second half possessions, getting a 31-yard Shane Colegrove field goal and a 34-yard touchdown reception by Keathley on a nice over-the-shoulder catch.
The Wildcats put the game into the mercy rule on Jayne's second touchdown run of the evening, a six-yard dash late in the fourth quarter. Canton then followed with its best drive of the night, and eight-play, 65-yard drive capped by Hoffman's four-yard run for a touchdown.