Athens Academy’s football team earned its first victory of the season last week.
The Spartans played at Charlotte Country Day School in North Carolina and won 33-9. That improved the team to a 1-1 record.
Josh Alexander, head coach at Athens Academy, said the game was scheduled because the Spartans wanted to showcase their brand in a unique environment.
“We were wanting to take our program on the road and play an out-of-state team, someone like ourselves,” Alexander said. “It was a great trip. We packed up everybody and went up there. Charlotte Country Day was a great host. They were fun to play and they were very hospitable.”
After making the drive to Charlotte, the Spartans wasted little time getting on the board.
Athens Academy forced a safety early on, taking a 2-0 lead. With 3:58 to go in the first quarter, Sam Bush scored on a 3-yard run to make it a 9-0 game.
The first score of the second quarter was a safety, too, this time given up by the Spartans. That allowed Charlotte to cut into the lead and make it 9-2.
Jake Williams improved the Spartans’ advantage to 12-2 with a 25-yard field goal before halftime.
With 7:09 left in the third quarter, Bush connected with Pratt Ferguson on a 48-yard touchdown pass, bringing the score to 19-2.
About six minutes later, Ferguson and Austin McGee combined on a 15-yard touchdown to improve the lead to 26-2.
Charlotte got its first touchdown on a 41-yard fumble recovery with 10:39 left in the game. That cut the lead down to 26-9.
Bush notched his second rushing touchdown with a 2-yard score a couple of minutes later to push the lead out to 33-9.
Last week’s game was a bounce-back performance for the Spartans. They dropped their season opener against Trinity Christian 59-7.
Alexander said he liked the way his players responded to the loss in the days leading up to last week’s road trip.
“It was fun to watch them because, sometimes when you get beat and you get beat like we got beat, it's bad but it's good for the soul at times,” Alexander said. “It sort of humbles you. It made us go back and start over and start working. Our kids did a good job. They do and will do anything that we ask them to do. They show up to work and it's fun to work with them.”
The game at Charlotte marked Bush’s second as the starting quarterback.
He took over the reins of the offense this year following the graduation of his brother, Palmer Bush. The younger Bush was embroiled in a battle for the starting gig until his opponent, newcomer Whit Muschamp, went down with a broken collarbone.
Alexander said he’s noticed progress out of Bush over the course of a scrimmage and two regular season games.
“He is getting better every week,” Alexander said. “He's just so athletic and makes things happen with his legs and his arm. He'll extend plays or he can run the football. There was one play where he got pushed out of the pocket and then planted on his back foot and launched the ball 60 yards. He's just a good athlete, very talented.”
The Spartans got an important piece of their offense back last week. Tre Hawkins returned after missing the season opener due to injury.
Hawkins ran for nearly 150 yards and is cleared moving forward.
In addition to production by Bush, Hawkins and the other offensive stars, the Spartans got a big performance out of their defense.
Athens Academy did not surrender any points defensively. Alexander said a combination of good coaching and dedicated players helps the defense perform at a high level.
“We have a great defensive staff,” he said. “Our defense kept a shutout and they did exactly what they do a lot of times: They played hard and were in the right spots. Our coaches do a good job with them.”
This Friday, the Spartans will play at Commerce High School.
Commerce traditionally hosts its home games at 8 p.m. instead of the standard 7:30 p.m., but the Tigers ended that practice this season and the game will start at 7:30.
The Tigers enter the game 1-1. Alexander expects a challenge, but he sees an opportunity for his team to take the lead in this head-to-head series.
“This game is always a really fun game to play in but it's always a tough game to play in,” Alexander said. “They're big and they're always really physical with a lot of tradition. They expect to win. It's a fun place to play on a Friday night. These two schools have been playing a long time and the rivalry is 14-14 right now. It should be a good road trip for us.”