BY TIM BIRNEY
Valley Sports Report
WAVERLY — For a game that had no playoff implications or meaning in the standings, the renewal of the Athens and Waverly football rivalry Saturday night was a hard-hitting and intense affair that included a brief on-field melee.
Waverly coach Jason Miller believes the lack of pressure surrounding the game may have benefited both teams.
“I thought it was great, and maybe that’s the reason why. Some of those other things bring added pressure, and the kids tighten up — they’re worrying about too many things, instead of just playing.
“I think what you saw was two teams playing for a lot of reasons, a multitude of reasons we may not even be aware of,” said Miller. “On an individual basis, playing a crosstown rival, they all have their motivations.
“It was pretty interesting to be a part of it.
“I’m just excited for our kids, it was different for them,” said Miller. “We get to play Tioga once in a while, but we don’t see those kids, they’re not part of our community. The Valley is a community, and these kids know each other; that’s what’s different.
“It was a cool experience for them to play a team who has kids you co-exist with on a daily basis,” added Miller. “The social media thing certainly exacerbated it, made it so much more, on their level, motivating.”
While the game fueled the fire to play the Valley rivals every year, Miller said there’s not much more that can be done to make it happen.
“I’d do anything we possibly can (to play Sayre and Athens every year). I’d like to play Sayre this week,” he laughed.
“It’s not going to change anything in terms of scheduling,” he noted. “On our end, we try to do it every year. Now that we have a little more leeway … we have a Week Zero (week when scrimmage are held) game, which would be their Week 1 game now, so we’re searching for a Week Zero game right now.
“It was a fun game, we’re certainly going to try to get Athens and / or Sayre on our schedule as often as possible,” added Miller.
As for Saturday’s game, Miller said his offense was just off-the-mark.
“I felt like we were so close to scoring on every possession,” said Miller. “We were more aggressive down the field, but for whatever reason in the first half we could not finish it off.
“There were several drops, and we were behind their defenders several times, but the ball hung up too long, or (Keegan) Rude came out of nowhere to make a play.
“We had our chances, but weren’t very productive,” he added.
Miller said the Wolverine run game was more productive than it had been for the majority of the season.
“I knew it would not be easy to run the ball against seven guys when we have six, and we don’t typically use the tight end that much, but we had one of our best rushing nights of the year.
At halftime, we talked about committing to the run a little more,” said Miller. “We did that on our scoring drive. We got a couple nice runs from David Hallett, and we got a big play downfield from Jalen (McCarty).”
The Wolverines won the game 7-0, so Miller obviously gave his defense a great deal of credit.
“We really haven’t been a great offensive team all year. We’ve relied on our defense, and the defense kept us hanging around.”
The Wildcats rushed for 221 yards in the game, including 124 yards by sophomore Shayne Reid, and 94 by senior Damian Hudson.
“(Athens) ran a simple iso play, and they x-blocked the iso play … it’s a really good design, and a really good scheme,” said Miller. “For the greater part of the evening, I thought we did a pretty good job of containing them. They didn’t gash us at all, (Shayne Reid and Damian Hudson) really had to earn their yardage.
“I was incredibly impressed with (Shayne) Reid, and Hudson is fast … they chose to run behind their big guy (Ian Wright, 6-6, 320 pounds), I’m impressed by him,” he added.
Miller said the main objective for the Wolverine defense was to limit Athens’ big-play potential, namely 6-4 wide receiver Keegan Rude, who entered the game with 40 catches for 713 yards and six TDs.
“I’m not surprised at their (rushing) yardage output,” said Miller. “The one thing we took away was taking a guy out of the box to make sure Keegan Rude didn’t have a catch, and we accomplished that.
“My biggest fear from Athens was their ability to make the big play.
“On the last drive, without Rude on the field, we didn’t have to double-team any of their other receivers, so we were able to put another guy in the box,” added Miller. “(Athens) drove down the field because they were executing well, but when it came down to it, we were able to stop them.”
Miler was impressed with his team’s defensive effort.
“I thought our defense was very physical. The things we talked about all week was don’t give up the big play, and make sure we get guys to the ball.
“We did that, and despite that they were able to run their plays and move up and down the field, but for the majority of that game we had six in the box,” said Miller. “I thought the defense did a pretty good job of stopping them despite that.”
The unsung hero of the game, said Miller, was punter Ethan Stotler.
“One thing that a huge impact on the game was our punting,” he said. “Ethan (Stotler) had a long punt that backed them up inside their 5.
“He did a really good job punting, and I don’t recall any of the punts being returned, which means our coverage was good,” said Miller. “Several times it changed the field.”
The other aspects of special teams were also good, said Miller.
“We were not going to kick it to Hudson or Reid because every time the ball is in their hands it’s an opportunity to score, especially Hudson.
“I don’t know why anyone would even kick to him,” said Miller. “I don’t think either one of them touched the ball on a kick return, not that there were a lot of kick returns.
“We tried a long field goal,” added Miller. “We got a good snap and a good kick off, but it was just a little short into the wind. (Alex Gadow) is capable of making those.”
GRADE: A. “We had a good week of practice,” said Miller. “I think every game you can get helps your program. We had a lot of underclassmen up for the week of practice, so they get a little taste of it. It’s an opportunity to get better.
“It’s nice to be in a game like that, and to pull it out — to get a stop at the goal line,” he noted. “We had several occasions throughout the year where we had our backs to the wall, and were able to get stops in the red zone. It was nice to end our year that way.
“It was a great game,” added Miller. “I’m grateful Athens played it, they certainly didn’t have to. I think (Athens coach) Jack Young would tell you it was a valuable game for them too, they have a lot of young kids. They got one more week of practice, and one more game. It will pay off.”
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