ATHENS — Both teams opened the game with offensive fireworks. But, in the end, it was a gritty second half performance that decided the rare Thursday night football game at Alumni Stadium as Wyalusing took a 36-29 decision.
Wyalusing opened the game with an explosive two-play drive highlighted by a 67-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Mitchell Burke to Kashawn Cameron. A two-point conversion rush by Brian Arnold gave the Rams the initial lead at 8-0.
Athens countered with a four-play, 56-yard drive which was capped by Damian Hudson’s 28-yard rush into the end zone. The Wildcats used their reliable extra point kicker, Aaron Lane, to narrow the gap to 8-7.
Wyalusing‘ s offense kept the foot on the gas and scored in three plays after receiving the Wildcat kickoff. Most of that yardage was a 77-yard touchdown pass from Burke to Shane Fuhrey. A second two-point conversion, this time a pass to Cameron, widened the Ram lead to 16-7.
Things got worse for the Wildcats as they lost an interception on their ensuing drive. However, Athens’ defense stepped up, and Shane Reid intercepted a pass and returned the ball to the Ram thirteen-yard line. As the momentum continued to swing back to the home team, Reid rushed into the end zone on the very next play. The Wildcats closed to within three, 16-13.
Athens held Wyalusing to three downs and a punt, giving their offense a chance to take the lead. The offense responded with a long drive to the Ram 9-yard line where the Wyalusing defense held fast. Athens turned the ball over on downs there. Momentum began to swing back to the Wyalusing side of the field.
The Ram offense quickly overcame the poor starting field position and drove 91 yards in 6 plays to score a touchdown. Once again, it was the passing game moving the ball for Wyalusing. Cameron hauled in a 79-yard touchdown pass to put Wyalusing up 22-13 after a failed two-point conversion.
Athens’ sophomore Shane Reid responded immediately for the Wildcats with a 77-yard kickoff return. Caleb Nichols rushed for the two-point conversion and Athens was within a point, 22-21. Reid and Nichols, a freshman, were filling running back duties as senior Damian Hudson had left the game in the first quarter due to injury.
The Wildcat defense held Wyalusing to three snaps and a punt to give the ball to their offense at midfield. Reid and his cohorts took advantage of the favorable field position as the second quarter was closing. The offense marched 52 yards to the end zone. Reid did the bulk of the work, including a 38-yard touchdown run. Reid followed that up with a successful two-point conversion run and the Wildcats had their first lead of the game, 29-22.
Wyalusing‘ s attempt to score at the end of the half was thwarted when Nichols intercepted a pass at the Athens 13-yard line. At halftime, the Wildcats still had a 29-22 lead.
The second half was much grittier than the first. Fatigue and inconsistency set in for both teams after combining for 51 first-half points.
Athens could no longer move the ball on offense. Athens’ head coach Jack Young noted “our line was doing good stuff, but our guys up front, our big horses up front, got a little tired.”
Meanwhile, the Rams were moving the ball. They drove 73 yards on their first drive of the second half, including a 43-yard pass to Fuhrey. However, they turned the ball over on downs at the Wildcat twenty yard line. The Wildcats lost a fumble on the first play after taking possession ,and the Rams were back on offense at the Wildcat 21. Two plays later, Arnold ran the ball in for the Rams, but they were unable to convert the two-point attempt. The Wildcats were reeling but still leading 29-28 early in the fourth.
Unable to convert on a third and 20, the Wildcats punted the ball back to the Rams at the Ram twenty-yard line. Wyalusing drove 80 yards to take the lead 34-29. The drive was highlighted by another big pass play, a 32-yard reception by Fuhrey and capped by a one-yard touchdown run by Burke. The Rams completed the two-point attempt to extend their lead to 36-29 with 2:35 left on the clock.
The Wildcats began their final drive with decent field position on their own forty-yard line. However, Jacob Bruyn was able to intercept a Mason Lister pass to seal the victory for the Rams.
For the Rams, Burke finished the game with fifteen passes for 398 yards and three touchdowns. Fuhrey finished with 209 receiving yards and one touchdown. Cameron caught three passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns. Arnold paced the Rams on the ground carrying nine times for 44 yards and a touchdown.
For the Wildcats, Hudson had five carries for 60 yards and a touchdown before being sidelined in the first quarter. Coach Young commended both Reid and Nichols for “playing their tails off” once Hudson went down. Reid finished with 13 carries for 86 yards and two touchdowns on the ground and five combined returns for 175 yards, including a touchdown. Nichols had nine carries for 39 yards. Keegan Rude was the leading receiver for Athens with two catches for 47 yards.
Athens host Canton Friday, September 20th at 7:00 for their homecoming game.