Note: This recap appears in the Sunday, Oct. 13 newspaper on Page B1.
It’s easy to identify the low point of the Bulldogs’ 2019 season so far.
It happened just over a week ago in a mistake-filled, blow-out home loss to Route 33 rival Logan.
But Athens didn’t stay down for long.
Flashing their trademark fast-and-efficient offense, the Bulldogs routed visiting Meigs, 60-24, on Friday night at Rutter Field in The Plains. Athens (3-4, 3-0 Tri-Valley Conference Ohio Division) needed just 52 seconds to put its first points on the board and never let off the gas.
“We came out swinging,” said senior WR/RB Corbin Stalder, who had 157 yards rushing and two touchdowns on just 11 carries.
Meigs (1-6, 0-4 TVC Ohio) simply couldn’t keep up. Sophomore quarterback Coulter Clelland threw for 240 yards and three touchdowns, but the Marauders were powerless to slow down Athens — especially after the Bulldogs decided to turn up the tempo this week.
Athens cut down the number of options used offensively, and tried to run the smaller playbook at a much-faster pace. Head coach Nathan White estimated Athens used just “eight to 10” different plays throughout the first two quarters.
The Bulldogs led 36-6 at halftime after racking up 405 yards on 40 offensive first-half snaps. White wanted his team to get back to basics this week, and for Athens that includes a break-neck tempo.
“The tempo was big,” White said. “We haven’t run much of that this year. Mainly because we have so many kids playing both ways it hasn’t really felt like an option.
“It’s too much of what I believe in so we decided to roll the dice and see how it looked tonight.”
Junior quarterback Joey Moore excelled as he and Stalder were a killer 1-2 punch in the read-option game. Moore rushed for a season-high 172 yards and two touchdowns, and still found time to complete 11 of 19 passes for 140 yards and another score.
Athens ran for a season-high 333 rushing yards. Stalder’s 157 rushing yards were nearly three times his previous season high (59).
“I’m mainly a running back. I like running the ball more than receiving,” said Stalder, who started the night with 143 yards receiving and 136 rushing.
“The o-line was blocking great, making holes and giving me room to cut around and stuff. That’s what I’m best at, with my speed.”
Athens had six touchdown drives with the first team offense. All but one took less than 150 seconds to complete. Four of the TD drives took 1:12 or less off the clock.
“It allows you to be a little more basic if you go fast because the defense has less time to adjust. You run your base stuff if you do it fast, it’s still tough to adjust to,” White explained.
“It’s kind of a mindset too. The kids kind of dig in and toughness takes over because everybody gets tired. We try to sell them on that.”
Stalder blasted through the middle for a 32-yard touchdown on the game’s first possession, and Athens — which went for two after every TD — led 8-0 after just 52 seconds were off the first-quarter clock.
Moore’s 19-yard touchdown on an option keeper capped a 98-yard drive on the next possession. Moore then dropped in a 43-yard scoring pass down the middle to Braeden Halbert. After a turnover — Reece Wallace gathered in Athens’ first interception of the season — Stalder finished off a short scoring drive with a 1-yard touchdown run.
At that point, Athens led 30-0 and 8:12 still remained on the second quarter clock.
“It just shows that we can do whatever. We got the speed, we got the skill guys. We can do it all,” Stalder said.
Clelland got Meigs on the board with a 64-yard touchdown to big running back Abe Lundy on a short pass in the left flat. But Moore’s 48-yard touchdown run, and an inverted option keeper, killed the momentum immediately.
Clelland’s 36-yard touchdown pass to Wyatt Hoover temporarily stopped the running clock in the third quarter, but Athens responded with a 5-play, 72-yard drive that took just 72 seconds. Peyton Gail finished with an eight-yard run and Athens led 44-12 midway through the third.
Even the Athens backups got in on the act. Backup QB Landon Wheatley hit Levi Neal with a short pass in the flat, but Neal turned it upfield for a 57-yard touchdown.
On the next offensive play, Wheatley intercepted Meigs’ Kolten Thomas and returned it 48 yards for another touchdown for a 60-18 lead.
Athens played with senior defensive lineman Isaiah Butcher, who missed the two previous games because of a suspension.
But the Bulldogs were without senior stalwart Nate Trainer (hip injury) and long-time defensive architect Kris Kostival.
Kostival wasn’t with the team on Friday night, and several Athens personnel said he had not coached the entire week. White didn’t illuminate Kostival’s situation any further afterward.
“I do not know,” White said when asked if Kostival would return to the staff for next week.
“Both,” White said when asked if wasn’t allowed to talk about the situation or simply didn’t want to.
White wouldn’t even say why Kostival wasn’t with the team, or if it was his (White’s) decision.
“I’m not going to answer anything about that,” the head coach said.
Despite that uncertainty, Athens will enter the final three weeks of the season with a chance for another TVC-Ohio title. The Bulldogs are one of two teams left in the league without a TVC loss.
Athens will face the other — Wellston (6-1, 3-0 TVC) — next Friday night. The Rockets won at Nelsonville-York, 36-7, on Friday.
“We’re not worried about anything else, just winning the league,” Stalder said.
White knows it’s a potential elimination game for Athens’ title hopes.
“Excited to see if we can go compete with them because I think they’re pretty dang good,” he said.
Athens 60, Meigs 24
Meigs 0 6 6 12 — 24
Athens 16 20 8 16 — 60
Athens — Corbin Stalder, 32-yard run (Joey Moore run), 11:04, 1Q
Athens — Joey Moore, 19-yard run (Braeden Halbert pass from Moore), 2:50, 1Q
Athens — Braeden Halbert, 43-yard pass from Joey Moore (Moore run), 10:17, 2Q
Athens — Corbin Stalder, 1-yard run (run failed), 8:12, 2Q
Meigs — Abe Lundy, 64-yard pass from Coulter Clelland (kick failed), 7:26, 2Q
Athens — Joey Moore, 48-yard run (pass failed), 4:56, 2Q
Meigs — Wyatt Hoover, 36-yard pass from Clelland (pass failed), 7:49, 3Q
Athens — Peyton Gail, 8-yard run (Robby Brice run), 6:34, 3Q
Meigs — Wyatt Hoover, 20-yard pass from Clelland (pass failed), 8:14, 4Q
Athens — Levi Neal, 57-yard pass from Landon Wheatley (Neal pass from Wheatley), 7:53, 4Q
Athens — Landon Wheatley, 48-yard interception return (Robby Brice run), 7:03, 4Q
Meigs — Robert Dixon, 3-yard run (no try), 0:00, 4Q
First downs 8 17
Total Plays 45 50
Rushing (plys-yds) 22-104 29-333
Passing yards 240 198
Total yards 344 531
Passes (cmp-att-int) 13-23-2 12-21-0
Fumbles (no-lost) 0-0 2-1
Penalties (no-yds) 8-51 7-60
Punts (no-avg) 5-29.4 1-16.0
Meigs — Noah Metzger 10-50, Robert Dixon 5-42 TD, Abe Lundy 4-10, Wyatt Hoover 1-10, Coulter Clelland 2-(-8); Athens — Joey Moore 14-172 2 TDs, Corbin Stalder 11-157 2 TDs, Peyton Gail 1-8 TD, Robby Brice 2-(-2), Ishmael Young 1-(-2).
Meigs — Coulter Clelland 13-22-1 240 3 TDs, Kolten Thomas 0-1-1 0; Athens — Joey Moore 11-19-0 140 TD, Landon Wheatley 1-2-0 58 TD.
Meigs — Abe Lundy 4-110 TD, Wyatt Hoover 2-56 2 TDs, Wes Metzger 3-40, Noah Metzger 2-26, Robert Dixon 1-5, Cameron Burnem 1-3; Athens — Braeden Halbert 3-64 TD, Levi Neal 1-58 TD, Peyton Gail 2-28, Brayden Markins 2-27, Corbin Stalder 3-8, Reece Wallace 1-13.