By: The Review | Towanda Daily Review | November 4, 2017
SUNBURY — Earlier in the week, Athens coach Jack Young said that his team would have a tough time in its District 4 Class 4A semifinal at Shikellamy if they fell behind early, as his offense wasn't especially built for playing from behind.
Thanks to a few special teams miscues, which included two blocked punts, and poor field position for its defense, that was unfortunately exactly what happened to Athens. Although the final yardage totals didn't accurately tell the whole story, the Wildcats fell behind early, lost their starting quarterback to injury and eventually fell to Shikellamy 41-7.
"We knew they had blocked some punts and we knew how they were doing it but we didn't execute," said Young. "It took a little frustration for guys to correct each other and get it done and then Kaden goes down so we're using a first-year quarterback that we converted from wideout earlier this year. So, it is what it is, but the kids never quit and showed a lot of character."
Athens was only out gained by 57 yards in the game, 202-145. However, the Wildcats were held to just 42 yards in the first half, as Shikellamy bottled up Athens' powerful rushing attack with Zack Jayne. He had just 13 yards in the first half on 11 carries and finished the game with 54 yards on 17 carries, 39 of which came on Athens' only scoring drive of the game late in the third quarter, which he capped with a three-yard touchdown run.
"We were able to bottle him up in the middle. Our linebackers have been playing well all year and they keep improving," said Shikellamy coach Todd Tilford. "They faced a really good runner tonight and they did what they had to do."
Thanks to Shikellamy's defense and special teams, the Braves only ran two of their 27 first half offensive plays from their side of the field, and one of those was a kneel-down to end the half. Shikellamy scored on its first four possessions. For the game, the Braves had just one more first down in the game than the Wildcats, 10-9, but eight of those nine first downs for Athens came in the second half after they already trailed 41-0 at the half.
Athens picked up a first down on its first possession of the game but didn't get another one until until late in the third quarter on its scoring drive, which was also the first time it crossed midfield all game. The Wildcats were forced to punt after picking up that first down on its first drive and the punt was partially blocked and went just five yards, giving the Braves possession at the Athens 28. Shikellamy needed just four plays to score on a seven-yard run by Gabe Tilford.
Athens' next drive produced three straight plays of negative yardage and a 28-yard punt set up the Braves at the Athens 47. Three plays later, Gabe Tilford found his younger brother Lucas Tilford on a crossing route for a 49-yard touchdown reception to put the Braves up 14-0.
On the Wildcats' first play from scrimmage of their next drive, quarterback Kaden Rude made a nice play to escape a sack but then threw an ill-advised pass that was intercepted by Gabe Tilford to set up the Braves at the Athens 42. Shikellamy then needed just five plays to score again, this time on a three-yard run by Joey Folk.
Rude was then knocked out of the game with what appeared to be an arm injury on a carry on the Wildcats' ensuing possession, which ended with another three-and-out and a punt. That led to Tilford's second touchdown pass of the game on the Braves' next possession, this one a 23-yard toss to Hunter Dodge to put the Braves up 27-0 early in the second quarter.
Later in the quarter, Tilford scooped up the blocked punt by Josh Krieger and ran it back 33 yards for another score to put Shikellamy up 34-0 midway through the quarter. Second-string quarterback Tate Krankoskie guided Shikellamy to another scoring drive, this one starting from the Athens 28 after a 30-yard punt return by Dodge, finishing it with a nine-yard touchdown pass to Krieger.
"We gave it away a little bit with turnovers and a blocked punt and those things mostly didn't happen to us this year," said Young. "I think we had one bad snap on a punt until tonight but at the same time, they're a better football team than us, especially tonight, and my hat's off to them and we wish them the best of luck."
Despite the tough ending to the season, Young did briefly reflect on what was an otherwise successful campaign.
"It's a good group of seniors that accomplished a lot and the things that our offense did with Zack Jayne — those are some special, crazy numbers that he put up and it was because of a good team effort. They're a special group of kids and we're going to miss these seniors."