Last week’s Athens Academy football game against Augusta Christian School came together in abrupt fashion but the Spartans adjusted well enough to earn a 42-27 victory.
The originally scheduled game against Commerce was canceled after Commerce experienced COVID-19-related issues within its roster. That left Athens Academy without an opponent.
As fate had it, Augusta Christian’s originally scheduled game was called off for the same reason and the Lions needed a new opponent, too. The impromptu game was scheduled by Tuesday afternoon, and it gave the Spartans an unexpected extra home game.
“We just got ready like any other week,” said Athens Academy quarterback Sam Bush. “We watched their film and got ready like normal. Even though we started on Tuesday, we knew we had to start fast and we had to get there like any other week.”
For Athens Academy head coach Josh Alexander, the sudden change presented a fun challenge even if the planned rivalry battle with Commerce couldn’t happen.
“The wind came out of their sails a little bit but then they gathered themselves and said, ‘Hey, we've got to get ready to go play another game,’” Alexander said. “As a coach, it was fun because you got to do two game plans in a week. A lot of work, but that's the fun part to me.”
The Spartans’ game plan for Augusta Christian worked. They put up five touchdowns in the first half and cruised to their second victory of the season.
Bush scored on a rushing touchdown to get the Spartans on the board 7-0 just a few minutes into the game. After surrendering a 64-yard touchdown pass, the Spartans scored 28 unanswered points before halftime.
A few big runs by Tre Hawkins helped set up Bush’s second rushing score at the 3:11 mark of the first quarter. Bush ripped off a long run to score his third touchdown with 10:19 to play in the second quarter.
K.J. Whitehead intercepted a pass soon thereafter and nearly returned it for a touchdown. Wally Terrell scored on the ensuing Spartans possession, making it a 28-7 game with 8:55 left before intermission.
Whitehead, a freshman, said “it felt fantastic” notching his first career interception. The young defensive back found himself in the right spot on a chaotic play that saw the Athens Academy defensive linemen flush Augusta Christian’s quarterback out of the pocket and force him to scramble to his left.
“I didn't have anybody on my side, so I was just sitting back,” Whitehead said. “I thought he was going to get sacked but I was just sitting in that area. I saw the ball thrown and it was right to my hands. I picked it and just started running, starting chugging toward the end zone.”
Reid Bangle had an interception return for a touchdown on a later drive. Bangle’s pick-six pushed Athens Academy’s lead out to 35-7 by halftime.
The Spartans’ offense sputtered on the first drive of the second half, leading to a punt. Augusta Christian struck quickly with a 73-yard touchdown run, cutting the lead to 35-13 after a blocked extra point attempt.
Hawkins effectively put the game away with a 30-yard scoring run to make it 42-13 with 10:18 to go.
Augusta Christian scored touchdowns on Athens Academy’s backups at the 47-second and 31-second marks of the fourth quarter, but the Spartans’ lead was insurmountable.
Bush went 3-for-9 with 67 yards passing, including a 65-yard completion to Pratt Ferguson, and an interception. He notched 110 yards rushing on 12 carries with three rushing touchdowns.
Hawkins ran it 20 times for 111 yards and a score.
“Our offensive line did great, our running backs did great, our wide receivers did great,” Bush said. “Everyone just had a hell of a game.”
Hawkins’ performance was a particular bright spot for Alexander, considering Hawkins returned two weeks ago after missing game one due to injury.
“We're young in a lot of spots and trying to get better every week,” Alexander said. “Sam's done a great job and Tre Hawkins is running the ball really well. He's getting better every quarter, so it's fun to watch him sort of get his legs under him and become who we know he can be.”
Jimmy Humphries led the Spartans’ defensive effort with 11 total tackles, including two sacks. Sam Johnson finished with a pair of sacks and two tackles for loss. Jeremiah Wingfield notched a sack, too.
The Lions finished with solid offensive numbers.
Quarterback Grayson Brooker threw for nearly 150 yards and running back Zackery Blackwell had 165 yards rushing.
Athens Academy’s big stops, however, were more than enough to gain a cushion.
“We had to lock down,” Johnson said. “Their running back was, obviously, a stud player. I think our linebackers did a heck of a job there. Johnerio Holt had a great game, Taylor Muir, the right tackle, had a great game. I think all up front we were really, really strong and I think that's what helped us win. And of course, our cornerbacks helped us out, too.”
There was one element of last week’s game that left Alexander “very concerned,” though.
Athens Academy committed eight penalties. That followed up 12 penalties two weeks ago against Charlotte Country Day School and 10 penalties in the season opener versus Trinity Christian.
The 30 penalties across the first three games are something the Spartans will hone in on, according to Alexander.
“We'll go back and dissect it to see what it was,” he said. “We'll try to get better at those.”
Athens Academy is scheduled to host Providence Christian Academy this Friday.