AA

Athens Academy senior Kurt Knisely walks off the field after a play on Friday night. 

For the Athens Academy Spartans, it was deja vu as they suffered their third straight playoff loss to the Eagle’s Landing Christian Chargers.

ELCA came into Slaughter Field on Friday night and defeated the Spartans 28-10 to advance to the semi-finals of the GHSA Class-A Private playoffs.

This is the Spartans’ only loss of the 2019 season. Then, come to think of it, this is the only loss the Spartans have had the last three seasons.

It goes without saying that the Spartans have lost to the Chargers the last two seasons in the state championship. The only difference this year is that the loss came in the quarter-finals instead.

Athens Academy’s head coach Josh Alexander highlighted the quality of team ELCA brings in every season.

“I don’t think they do anything differently,” Alexander said. “They are a well-coached team with good players.”

Throughout the game, Athens Academy couldn’t seem to get out of their own way. Whenever they started to drive down the field, they’d have a penalty that would set them back. It would break any consistency the offense would have.

Another Achilles' heel of the Spartan offense was pass protection. Every time junior quarterback Palmer Bush dropped back to pass, there was an ELCA defender in his face. He hardly ever had more than three seconds to throw the ball.

The running game, however, was consistent for most of the night except when it needed to.

Athens Academy began the second half with possession, burned four minutes and 14 seconds off the clock but faced a 4th and 2. Bush lined up in the shotgun and ran a designed quarterback draw. The Chargers’ defense stuffed Bush at the line of scrimmage and forced a turnover on downs. Just when the Spartans needed a typical three-yard run, they couldn’t find it.

The defense picked up the offense, though, and came up with a huge stop on ELCA’s ensuing drive forcing a three-and-out. The Chargers only took 46 seconds off the clock before Athens Academy got the ball back.

The Spartans used the rest of the third quarter’s clock but only produced three points. James Williams hit a 41-yard field with 11:53 remaining in the game.

Just like the running game, the Spartans' defense performed well except when they needed to the most.

In the first half, the defense held their own except on the two scoring plays they gave up. ELCA’s first score came off a 26-yard run and the second off an 89-yard touchdown pass. Subtract those two plays and the defense only gave up nine total yards.

In the fourth quarter, the defense couldn’t get a stop to get the Spartans back into the game. They surrendered a 17-yard run to set up the game-sealing, 23-yard touchdown run to make the score 28-3.

Alexander provided the explanation.

“We just ran out of gas and couldn’t get a stop,” Alexander said.

One of the few highlights for the Spartans came with 3:50 remaining in the game. Bush bought enough time and connected with junior wide receiver, Deion Colzie for a 60-yard touchdown pass.

After the game, Alexander and the coaching staff focused on the positives.

“We need to celebrate our blessings and thank the good Lord above,” Alexander told his team in the postgame huddle. “I told you before the game ‘we’re not defined by our wins and losses.’”

This was the last game the senior class will play as an Athens Academy Spartans. Their collective record for all four years is the winningest of any senior class: 46-6 (88.5 percent).

But they were still heartbroken by this devastating loss to the same ELCA football team.

“They’re a tough group of guys that bleed green,” Alexander said. “We support them and they care about this team, school and community deeply.”

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