ATHENS — One year removed from a 1-10 season, the Athens Wildcats varsity football team has a little more to play for in the midst of a season that has been chaotic to say the very least. The hopes over at Athens Area High School have remained high with a 4-1 record this season that will more than likely turn into their fifth District IV playoff appearance in six years, after missing out last year.
With most of the starters returning from last season, the Wildcats have seen a significant boost in offensive production. Naturally this has come with the increase of the passing game as well. The Wildcats now score an average of 23.8 points per game compared to last year’s 17.3.
The fact of the matter is that sophomore quarterback Mason Lister has time to throw the football.
That’s all due to the experienced group up front. The senior group of offensive lineman had their share of hiccups last season, but now have banded together to accomplish something bigger than themselves. Ian Wright, Zac Gowin, Connor Sindoni, Lucas Aquilo, Caleb Houseknect, and Ben Pernaselli realize the importance of what they’ve been able to do for the program.
“We all got together in the beginning of the season and said if we were going to have a season then we needed to really grind and make it the best it possibly could be,” said Pernaselli. “So far it turned out to be what we wanted.”
That mindset came even with all of uncertainty on the fate of the 2020 season, and a group ready to bounce back from a 10 loss season. The group says that for the guys up front it was a mental battle more than anything else. The mental strive to get better was on the shoulders of the individuals, as they had to workout for part of the season at home due to the pandemic.
“Attitude definitely matters,” said Gowin. “The biggest thing in the process is to be optimistic because the younger guys really pick up on that.”
Naturally, a good way to measure an offensive line is to compare how they have done against top defenses. Specifically with the defensive line, the Canton Warriors presented the toughest test for Athens this season, being their only loss. The Warriors defense has proved to be one of the best in the district, allowing just 12 points per game, but the Athens line held their own in that contest, giving up just two sacks.
This year’s offensive line core has natural size and strength, so the work in the offseason does nothing but help and set an example for future groups. However, the size is definitely something you look to as the average weight of the senior line core is 252 pounds.
“We can definitely see the progression to now from the beginning of the season,” said Wright. “We started off playing well against Sayre, and then we just progressed by playing strong teams. It’s all experience.”
With as much as this group has been able to accomplish this year, they’re still far from the end. The WIldcats will play out their final regular season game tonight with nearly a two-hour bus ride south to Montgomery High School. The 3-3 Red Raiders hold two common opponents, with a win against Wyalusing and a loss to South Williamsport. Two teams that Athens has beaten this year. A win over Montgomery could give Athens their first home playoff game since 2015.