By TIM BIRNEY
Valley Sports Report
ATHENS — The game didn’t mean anything in the standings, and it had no impact on the postseason, but longtime Athens coach Jack Young could feel something different about his team in the week leading up to the renewal of its rivalry with Waverly.
“As the week went, for us, I felt like our kids had a little bit more of a focus. It was a little bit different of for us,” he said. “Friday night, after our pre-game practice, I opened it up to our seniors to say a few things. You definitely got a vibe that it could be an intense situation (Saturday) night.
“By no means, were our kids looking at it as just another game. I could feel the intensity from my team, and I thought it could be a great night.
“On both sides, there were some tense things going on early, but as the game went on the two teams were just playing,” added Young. “Things got a little bit chippy, and some things went on you don’t like to see, but when you have two teams from such close proximity, it’s bound to happen.”
Young said Saturday was the culmination of something the Wildcats had been building during the second half of the season.
“As our season went on, our kids were trying to find that intensity, that physical and mental toughness to compete,” he said. “In the second half of the season, I felt we did that against some teams that may have been a bit superior to us.
“I thought we definitely had those things Saturday night against Waverly,” added Young.
The Wildcats ran the ball for 221 yards, and outraged Waverly 253-175. Athens also had a 20-play drive that ended at the Wolverine 3 as time expired.
“Offensively, we felt like we did what we came into the game looking to do,” said Young. “We had some break go against us, but you have to be able to handle those bad breaks.
‘Every time we got to (Waverly’s) 25-yard line, we shot ourself in the foot, or we caught a bad break,” noted Young. “We just weren’t able to finish. You have to be able to finish, and put points on the board.
“We got a bad break on the fumble,” he continued. “The breaks of the game, and the flow of the game, you have to be able to manage it. We didn’t manage it.
“About mid-third quarter, I thought in my head this game could go to overtime 0-0,” added Young. “Looking back, I wish it would have.”
The Wildcats, who had been torched at times through the air, limited Waverly to just 61 passing yards.
“Our secondary played their tails off,” said Young. “Coach Miller has a tremendous offensive scheme. They want to spread the field and throw the ball, whether they throw it quick, or hit the seam. Our kids stepped up.
“Damian (Hudson) would have liked to take a bigger role offensively, but he knew how important he was to us defensively,” noted Young. “Keegan (Rude) is a super-talented kid. He’s big, physical, and long. He was all over the field.
“And, Jared Peterson, all 5-8 of him on his tippy-toes, has battled all year,” added Young. “He played his best game of the year.”
Young was pleased with special teams play, aside from the fact that Waverly didn’t kick the ball deep.
“It gets frustrating for me when you have kids like Damian Hudson and Shayne Reid deep on kick returns,” said Young. “Coach Miller said it very clearly that there was no way they were going to put the ball in their hands. That speaks enough for special teams.
“They only kicked off twice, but they weren’t going to kick it to us,” he noted. “We work hard on that stuff, and it’s a little frustrating, but there’s not much you can do about it.
“Other than that, I thought our special teams did a fine job.”
GRADE: B. “I think it’s easy to grade your team when you get a W. One of the things we preached leading into the Week 11 game with Waverly was physical and mental toughness. I thought we displayed a lot of that.
“Being Week 11, and the fact our kids played their tails off, and showed a lot of heart. I’ll give my guys a B, based on toughness.”
“A lot of what happened in week 11 against Waverly was very descriptive of our season,” added Young. “When things go well for us offensively, we did what we wanted to do, we just couldn’t finish.”
IN PHOTO: Athens coach Jack Young.
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