By TIM BIRNEY
Valley Sports Report
ATHENS — Athens has been struggling in 2019, and Week 7’s match-up at Towanda, presented the Wildcats their best opportunity for a win in a few weeks, but they came up short in a 33-21 loss and fell to 1-6 to continue a season of frustration.
“I think we all felt like it was a great opportunity for us,” said Athens coach Jack Young.
“It was a great atmosphere, big crowd — Towanda’s Homecoming. It was a great setting for us,” he noted. “In the end, we weren’t good enough. It was a tough night.
“It’s frustrating,” said Young. “The kids are working hard, and I feel bad for them. I felt bad for them Friday night because we had a good week of practice. We just didn’t execute well enough Friday night.
“To be successful and win football games, you have to do it all right Monday through Friday.
“It’s been a long season,” added Young. “I don’t think anybody would have thought we were going to be 1-6 and searching for a win.”
Young said his coaching staff is searching for answers when it comes to the Wildcat defense.
“We made a lot of mistakes on offense, and the turnover but bit us again, but I think the biggest thing is trying to find the right spot defensively where we’ll be successful, and we’ve struggled to find that.
“It’s one of those years where we haven’t hit our stride and we’re searching a little bit,” said Young.
“After a couple of weeks, we eliminated giving up big plays,” he added. “I think Tanner Kunkle showed our weaknesses, though, in terms of athleticism interior-wise.”
Young said Kunkle was not a one-man gang.
“Tanner Kunkle is a special player, but he had a lot of help Friday night.
“I think Towanda played well,” said Young. “Jyshaire Robinson ran the ball really well, and Mason Johnson did a little bit of everything for them offensively.”
Young also notes the ball hasn’t bounced his team’s way this season.
“We’re not getting any breaks right now, but I’m a true believer that if you keep working and fighting, those breaks will come your way.”
Junior defensive end Ben Pernaselli had a huge game on defense for the Wildcats, with 21 tackles, including five tackles-for-losses. He also had three QB sacks and two hurries.
“Ben Pernaselli was a monster Friday night,” said Young. “Once he got going, he was unstoppable.”
Offensively, the Wildcats committed a couple of costly turnovers", and committed a few untimely penalties, but the Black Knight defense also threw a new wrinkle at them.
“Towanda had a great game plan, and they executed it perfectly,” said Young.
“I felt like (Towanda) was going to do something to us a little bit differently, and they did,” he noted. “They dropped a safety back, and play us in a lot of zone coverages.
“We were able to adjust in time and do some good things offensively, but again we shot ourselves in the foot with a couple of turnovers,” noted Young.
“We didn’t commit a ton of penalties, but we had a couple penalties that put us in tough down-and-distance situations,” he added.
Young said his team also hurt itself with breakdowns in execution on offense.
“We only scored seven points in the first half, but we had opportunities for more,” said Young. “It was missed execution … we’d have one guy breakdown, and you can’t do that — all 11 guys have to be on the same page.
“Staying on a block could mean the difference between a 4- or 5-yard gain and a 9- or 12-yard gain.
“We did pretty much what we wanted to do in our game plan,” added Young. “We spread them a little bit, and we ran the ball right at them. Again, a few mechanical breakdowns hurt us.”
One facet that played up to par for the Wildcats was special teams.
“I thought we did a pretty decent job on special teams.
The kick-off team was solid,” said Young. We had a couple really nice kick returns … a couple were one block away from going the distance. It’s been that way all year.
“Towanda scored to tie game at 7-7, and we took the kick return just beyond midfield, and you can’t ask for any better than that,” he noted. “But, there we are with great field position, and we don’t take advantage.
“Our punt team did well,” said Young. “Tanner Kunkle is not a great punter, but when they stick him back there 12 yards deep and snap him the ball, you better be heads-up. Fortunately, we didn’t give them any looks where they would test us with him.
“I thought special teams were improved,” added Young.
GRADE: C-. “I was proud of the way the kids came out in the second half and fought. I thought we turned our intensity level up in the second half, but we don’t grade on halves.”
IN PHOTO: Athens coach Jack Young.
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