It was a scene that was all-to familiar for the Athens Bulldogs and their fans.
The Warren Warriors were seemingly stealing momentum away, erasing a 14-point deficit with a flurry of steals and points to end the third quarter.
These Bulldogs were determined to write a different ending, however.
A 12-0 run to start the fourth quarter helped Athens end more than a decade of frustration against head coach Blane Maddox and his Warriors.
Athens scored 27 fourth-quarter points, leading to a 77-65 victory over Warren inside McAfee Gymnasium.
“It was a great win for us. We’re going to be proud of that one,” Athens coach Mickey Cozart said.
It’s not known exactly when the last time the Bulldogs defeated Warren in boys’ basketball, but you have to go back to earlier than 2006 when both schools were members of the Southeastern Ohio Athletic League.
Athens had lost at least 17 straight games to Warren, including six in the tournament.
Athens has had great teams in that time frame, teams that won league titles, sectional titles and even a district title in 2013, but the 2020 Bulldogs will be known as the squad that finally delivered a win against the Big Bad Blue of Warren.
“I’m hearing numbers clear back to 2006,” Cozart said. “There’s been some real good Athens basketball teams that didn’t quite get it done. For us to get that one, it’s pretty important to this group, myself, this staff. We put a lot of time and effort. We really worked these kids.”
It was evident how much the win meant to the Bulldogs afterwards, as they celebrated on the court, cheers raining down from the home crowd as the final seconds ticked away.
Brayden Markins paced Athens with an excellent game, scoring 20 points on 8 of 14 shooting, adding seven rebounds and five assists.
“He’s just deadly because he can do so many things,” Cozart said. “He can get the ball up the court. He can make big shots. He’s fearless. He can lock-down defend. He rebounds the basketball. He just does a little bit of everything for us.“
Brayden Whiting added a double-double with 18 points and 12 rebounds for Athens, making 9 of 13 shots from 2-point range.
Isaiah Buther also had a double-double with 15 points and 16 rebounds.
Athens stared down adversity to gain the win. The Bulldogs scored the first seven points of the third quarter to lead 43-29 after Markins’ 3-pointer. The lead still stood at 49-36 after Markins scored on a putback with 2:54 left in the third.
The Bulldogs were in command, but the Warriors had a comeback.
Joel Chevalier and Brandon Simoniette made consecutive 3-pointers to cut Athens’ lead to 49-44.
Warren then scored six points in the final 13 seconds of the third, a wild sequence that took away Athens’ advantage.
It started when Kurt Taylor found Simoniette open under the basket on an inbound play with around 13 seconds left, making it 50-46.
Athens then turned the ball over to Warren, and Taylor scored with less than five seconds left.
The Bulldogs turned the ball over again trying to get the inbound pass in, and Brayden Sallee scored at the rim before the buzzer went off.
The Warriors’ crowd went nuts, and their players bounced back to the bench with a shocking 50-50 tie.
Warren had outscored Athens 14-1 over the final 2:36 of the frame. The Bulldogs were down, but far from out.
“The message going into the fourth quarter, we told you this was going to happen (a Warren run),” Cozart said. “Now you have to go win a quarter. Just go win a quarter of basketball and you’ll get this thing done.”
Athens quickly answered, never allowing Warren to take the lead in the fourth quarter. Markins found Butcher inside for an easy basket, and Athens led 52-50 after its first possession.
Whiting found a cutting Andrew Stephens for the next points, and Markins scored on his own drive to the basket for a 56-50 edge.
Now, it was Warren that needed a timeout to regroup just 90 seconds into the final quarter.
“I thought our guys responded the right way,” Cozart said. “We played hard, physical, fast, together basketball.”
Whiting made a jumper, then Markins found Stephens for another basket. By the time Nate Trainer made two free throws with 4:26 remaining, it was a 12-0 run for a 62-50 lead.
Of course, the Warriors still made Athens fans sweat it out. Sallee’s 3-pointer with just under three minutes remaining allowed Warren to trail just 67-62. Sallee’s three-point play on a putback cut Athens’ lead to 69-65 with 1:28 remaining.
So many of Athens’ last 17 losses to Warren were tossup games, won by the Warriors in the closing seconds.
This time would be different. Butcher made two free throws in the double bonus with 1:11 left for a 71-65 lead.
Sallee would miss a 3 on the other end, then Athens finally put it away.
Markins would miss two free throws, but Butcher was there to grab an offensive rebound.
He missed his first shot, but got his own rebound. He was fouled and made the shot.
The senior let out a scream of emotion, the frustration of previous losses to Warren being let out.
Butcher made the free throw for a 74-65 lead with 53.5 seconds left.
The streak had ended.
“That was the end of the game,” Cozart said. “We felt that was the one. It’s going to be hard to come back nine with 53 seconds against this squad. It was massive.”
The Warriors wouldn’t score again, and Markins scored on a runout for the exclamation point on the victory.
Simoniette led Warren with 18 points, while Chevalier and Sallee each scored 12 points.
Trainer added 11 points for Athens, while Stephens scored nine points. The Bulldogs received 73 points from their starting lineup, and won the rebounding battle 51-34.
It was a signature win for Athens, which will be back on the court Tuesady at Marietta before hosting Alexander in a first-place battle on Friday.
“We adjusted well,” Cozart said. “This is a fun basketball team to coach, I’m going to tell you that.”
Athens 77, Warren 65
Warren 13 16 21 15 — 65
Athens 17 19 14 27 — 77
WARREN 65 (8-5)
Kurt Taylor 2 1-3 6, Jake Baumgard 4 0-0 8, Brandon Simoniette 6 2-2 18, Joel Chevalier 3 4-7 12, Dylan Place 1 0-0 2, Evan Byrd 2 0-0 5, Josh Welch 1 0-0 2, Isaac Colgrove 0 0-0 0, Brayden Sallee 4 3-3 12; TOTALS 24 10-15 65; 3-point field goals: 7 (Simoniette, Chevalier 2 apiece, Taylor, Byrd, Sallee 1 apiece)
ATHENS 77 (10-3)
Andrew Stephens 3 3-4 9, Isaiah Butcher 5 5-7 15, Brayden Markins 8 2-4 20, Nate Trainer 4 3-3 11, Brayden Whiting 8 2-3 18, Will Matters 0 2-2 2, Reece Wallace 1 0-0 2; TOTALS 29 17-23 77; 3-point field goals: 2 (Markins 2)
TEAM STATISTICS/INDIVIDUAL LEADERS
Field goals — Warren 24-51 (.471), 3-point field goals 7-30 (.233); Athens 29-59 (.492), 3-point field goals 2-11 (.182); Free throws — Warren 10-15 (.667), Athens 17-23 (.739); Rebounds — Warren 34 (Chevalier 8), Athens 51 (Butcher 16); Assists — Warren 10 (Chevalier, Taylor 4 apiece), Athens 11 (Markins 5); Blocks — Warren 5 (Sallee, Baumbard 2 apiece), Athens 3; Turnovers — Warren 11, Athens 22; Steals — Warren 10 (Chevalier 3), Athens 7 (Matters, Butcher, Stephens 2 apiece); Team fouls — Warren 18, Athens 17; JV game — Warren 46, Athens 34