Athens won in trenches, not with flash
People look at the Athens Wildcats and they see the firepower on offense.
They see 6-foot, 2-inch receiver Ray McDougan, the district champion in the 100 meters last year. They see 6-foot, 4-inch Brad Sampson and 6-foot, 5-inch Garrett Clark at receiver.
They see a quarterback in Troy Stivason who threw for over 1,000 yards on the season.
They see an aerial attack, a quick strike offense.
What they fail to see is the offensive line.
Most people watching the game might not even know the names Ted Greene, Darrin Butters, Tom Shenot, Jon Canfield and Scott Laidlaw.
Tight end Curt Moore gets a catch here or there, but they may not notice the work he does blocking.
But, that's okay with the Athens offensive line.
On Friday night they know what they did.
Tyler Birdsall gained 145 yards and scored two touchdowns, but it wasn't on a bunch of big runs.
Rather it was 38 carries, a workmanlike effort. An effort that in the fourth quarter let Athens run off much of the clock as the line was able to give Birdsall two or three yards on every run before a Troy player got a hand on him.
"We love it," Shenot said of running the ball so much against the Trojans. "We love when it's physical, we take pride in it."
The offensive line knows where the attention is paid.
They know who grabs the headlines.
They know what gets people out of their seats.
They also know what it takes to win football games in the district playoffs.
"There is no glory on the line," Moore said. "There is no glory, but to win games, it starts in the trenches."
While people watching were seeing Birdsall pick up the yards. While they watched as Birdsall found the end zone. He knew exactly what was allowing that to happen.
"The big guys they open up a lot of nice holes," Birdsall said.
And, on a cold night, with temperatures dropping close to freezing, it was the line and Birdsall who battled. Who took the hits, who kept getting up to do it one more time.
"I don't even know what to say," Birdsall said of the 38 carries. "It's a lot, I don't even know what to say right now."
For the line the physical play is something they enjoy.
"It's fun getting a hit on every play," Moore said. "When it's cold weather, that's what's fun."
It's the same thing that happened the last time the Wildcats played the Trojans when Birdsall had over 30 carries in the win.
The Wildcats found that against Troy their line was able to open holes, allowing them to get some yards on the ground.
"The coaches knew coming in that we could run against Troy," Shenot said.
Even with all the weapons the Wildcats have in their passing game, they have run the ball well all season long.
"Tyler is a 1,000-yard rusher, he's been doing this all season long," Moore said.
When it got to that fourth quarter and the game was on the line.
When it got to a point where the ball was in Birdsall's hands on nearly every play running behind the line, that's exactly what the big guys up front live for.
"That's the best part of the game," Canfield said.
Guys like Green and Butters, Canfield and Shenot, Canfield and Laidlaw they know they aren't going to get all the attention every week.
They know that it's players like McDougan and Birdsall who are going to be celebrating a lot of the touchdowns.
They also know that there is one weapon on the Athens roster that other teams might not know a lot about.
"We have all these weapons and our biggest weapon might be our offensive line," Moore said.
After Friday night, that's something many others might agree on.
Brian Fees is the sports editor at The Daily Review. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org