By TIM BIRNEY
Valley Sports Report
ATHENS — Waverly scored the game’s only TD in the final minute of the third quarter, then stopped Athens inside the 10 on the last play of the game in a 7-0 win here Friday night in non-league football action at Alumni Stadium.
“I’m happy for our kids, they get to end the season in a positive way,” said Waverly coach Jason Miller. “It’s a good win.”
As a matter of fact, it was Miller's 100th career win. (See related story.)
“I’m proud of the way our kids fought,” said Athens coach Jack Young. “I’m proud of coming out here on Week 11 after going 1-9 and fighting. They could have very easily come out here and laid an egg, but they didn’t.”
The game was a hard-hitting and intense affair.
“I kind of felt it all week,” said Young. “For whatever reason, it felt like we had a little bit more of something about us this week. It just felt like our guys wanted a fight, and wanted a battle.”
“It was fun to be in this kind of game,” said Miller. “The atmosphere was nice, even in Week 11 for them. It’s a little taste what this rivalry was in the past.
“I’m not surprised at all by the intensity of this game,” he noted. “I’ve been telling people (Athens) is a good football team … they certainly played with a lot of intensity tonight, and I think our kids match their intensity the entire game.
“It was a fun game, a good way to end the season,” added Miller.
The game got a bit chippy late in the first half, and carried over into the second half, which featured a brief melee and an ejection.
“It was a fun game to be a part of, too bad all that nonsense goes on, but that’s part of the game, too,” said Miller. “There was a lot of jawing going on that proceeded the game, and a lot of stuff on social media for a while. Unfortunately, it came to fruition during the game.”
“There was some negative stuff, but that’s going to happen in a rivalry game,” said Young. “I’m disappointed in that, but at the same time I hope the Valley realizes it was treated to something special because it was two good groups of kids who came out and battled.”
Athens opened the game with a three-and-out, and Waverly quickly moved the ball into Wildcat territory, thanks in part to an 11-yard run by junior tailback David Hallett, and a 12-yard gain on a jet sweep by senior Jalen McCarty.
However, on third-and-11, Athens senior Keegan Rude hauled down a one-handed interception at the Wildcat 15 to end the threat.
After an exchange of punts, Athens ended up pinned at its own 5 on a 44-yard punt by Waverly senior Ethan Stotler.
Senior Damian Hudson got the Wildcats out the hole with a 12-yard run, but a holding call put Athens behind the 8-ball again, and a short punt put the Wolverines in good field position at the Athens 34.
Four plays later, Waverly turned the ball over on downs after gaining just 2 yards, but Stotler picked off a Mason Lister pass moments later and returned it 20 yards to Wildcat 18.
The Athens defense did not allow a yard on three plays, and the Wolverines lined up to attempt a 35-yard field goal. Junior Alex Gadow’s attempt came up a yard short and the game remained scoreless.
After the missed field goal, sophomore Shayne Reid and Hudson combined to carry the ball 10 times for 70 yards to the Waverly 18, but a high shotgun snap left the Wildcats in a 3rd-and-27 situation, and they ended up punting the ball away.
The teams exchanged brief possessions and the game went to the half tied at 0-0.
“We struggled in the first half offensively making plays,” said Miller. “We had a lot of opportunities in the first half to make big plays, we just couldn’t pitch-and-catch.”
The teams exchanged punts to begin the second half, and Waverly took possession at its 47 with 6 1/2 minutes remaining in the third quarter.
A 7-yard run by McCarty and back-to-back 8-yard runs by Hallett quickly moved the ball to the Athens 30.
Moments later, on 4th-and-13, 8th-grade QB Joey Tomasso connected with McCarty on a 16-yard pass to the Wildcat 12. Three plays later, Hallett bulled in from 2 yards out to cap the 10-play drive that chewed 5 1/2 minutes off the game clock.
Gadow added the PAT kick to make it 7-0 with 51 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
Following the ensuing kickoff, Hudson had runs of 8 and 6 yards, and Reid ripped off a 23-yard run. After a defensive holding call moved the ball to the Waverly 18, the Wildcats coughed up the ball, and a controversial call gave the Wolverines the recovery.
Tomasso hooked up with McCarty on a 24-yard pass, but the Wolverines were forced to punt from midfield.
As Stotler’s punt was encircled by Wolverines at the Athens 17, a Wildcat laid out one of the Waverly players, and a brief scuffle ensued. The Athens player was ejected, and the Wildcats began their possession at the 17 with 6:57 remaining in the game.
The Wildcats, with Reid and Hudson doing the majority of the damage, ran 20 plays, and moved the ball to the Waverly 9 with 1.2 seconds remaining. On the final play of the game, Lister connected with Reid in the flats, but Hallett dragged him down at the 6 as time expired.
The Wildcats outgained the Wolverines 253-175 in total yards.
“A couple penalties, and a costly turnover when we were moving the ball … no doubt we left some points on the field.,” said Young. “We just didn’t get it in the end zone.”
“We didn’t give up the big play all night, that was a positive,” said Miller. “We worried about them making big plays.”
Tomasso completed 9 of 20 passes for 61 yards and one interception in the win, but completed 5 of 6 for 50 yards in the second half.
“Joey (Tomasso) played a hell of a game, threw the ball very well,” said Miller. “We had a few drops, and Athens had their hands in things.
“(Keegan) Rude played a hell of a game in their defensive backfield,” added Miller. “When he’s playing cover-1, he covers a lot of ground. He had his hands in the mix, and that’s why we didn’t complete some of those balls.”
McCarty led Waverly’s receivers with four catches for 38 yards, and junior Aidan Westbrook added three grabs for 14 yards.
“Jalen had a big catch down the middle on a critical play. It got us a first down to keep the drive going that we ultimately scored on,” said Miller.
Hallett led Waverly’s ground game, which accounted for 114 yards on 30 carries, with 62 yards and one TD on 16 carries.
Athens ran for 221 yards on 44 carries, with Reid carrying the ball 17 times for 124 yards, and Hudson added 94 yards on 19 carries.
“(Athens) did a really good job running their x-block play,” said Miller. “Shayne Reid and (Damian) Hudson run really fast and downhill.
“(Offensive lineman Ian Wright) has really improved, and has become a good football player,” added Miller. “The last few games he’s been moving people — he’s a big kid.”
Waverly wraps up the campaign at 4-5, while Athens falls to 1-10.
“I give (Athens) a lot of credit, they have good football players,” said Miller. “They’re well-coached, and have tough kids. I don’t know how they’re 1-10.”
IN PHOTO 1: Waverly’s Jalen McCarty. … PHOTOS 1-12 COURTESY OF MATT PATTON. … PHOTOS 13-24 PHOTOS COURTESY OF DAVID ALLIGER — TRAVELING PORTRAITS PHOTOGRAPHY.
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