Athens, Jackson Set To Showdown For Third Straight Year

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The third installment of an epic football trilogy will be coming to Basil Rutter Field when the Athens Bulldogs (3-0) host the Jackson Ironmen (2-1) in a game riddled with playoff implications.

The two perennial football powerhouses renewed an old rivalry in their playoff game in 2011, which was the first time the two teams had met since Athens moved from the SEOAL to the TVC in 2008.

In 2011, the Bulldogs and Ironmen squared off in The Plains as equals, both with 10-0 regular season records, but by the end of the game, Jackson had proved to be superior, stealing a 27-7 road win.

However, Athens bounced back in 2012’s installment of the rivalry, scoring the final 15 points of the game en route to a 21-14 road win.

And this blockbuster rubber-match will feature two old conference foes, looking to take control of their rekindled rivalry with a win on Friday night.

“It’s always a big game against [Athens],” Jackson coach Andy Hall said. “It’s a game between two programs that aren’t very far apart. It’s TVC verse SEOAL. It’s a game between two very good programs. And, this year, playoff points are at stake.”

For the Bulldogs, a win would mean another step on their path to an undefeated season and a top playoff seed, and they are clicking on all cylinders coming in.

Athens is coming off its third straight impressive win, beating Warren on the road, 42-6. The 42 points was its offense’s lowest output of the season so far and its +36 point differential was also the lowest of the year.

“It all starts up front for our offense,” Athens coach Ryan Adams said. “Those guys and our coaching staff have done a good job getting ready to play every week.

“We also have a lot of talent out wide and in the backfield, with Joe [Burrow], Trae [Williams], and the Leurhmans. When you have that kind of talent out there, it makes things tough on defenses.” 

For the Ironmen, meanwhile, a win would mean a big boost in their playoff points after a tough loss in West Jefferson last week.

Jackson started off the year hot, winning its first two games by a combined score of 122-18. 

However, a 35-point loss at the hands of the Roughriders in week three has given the Ironmen an extra sense of urgency and more focus.

“We ran into a buzz saw and senior-laden West Jefferson team last week,” Hall said. “So we went back to the drawing board and the fundamentals, trying to get better as a group… The kids are excited. They’re very eager to get back on track and we’ve had a good week at practice.”

If Jackson wants to defeat Athens, the Ironmen are going to have to find a way to beat the top defense in the TVC-Ohio, as well as stop the offensive powerhouse led by Burrow and Williams.

But Jackson was able to put up a good fight last season, holding Athens’ offense to just 21 points, a regular-season low in the Burrow-Williams era.

“We want them to earn every yard,” Hall said. “We had success last year against them. We need to be able to tackle in space, play assignment football and make plays. We won’t shut them down completely, but we will eliminate big plays.” 

“We’re going to have to play a great game to win,” he continued. “If we don’t play our ‘A’ game, it could be a long night.”  

Considering the magnitude of the game, however, the Bulldogs will not be taking the Ironmen lightly, even if the majority of their starting roster has changed from last year.

“Jackson might have a lot of young players but they always play with a lot of confidence,” Adams said. “They play an aggressive, physical style of football.  I don’t expect anything less than that this Friday.”

This clash has all the makings of what could be a classic thriller in Southeastern Ohio high school football.

“It’s going to be a really good game,” Adams said. “Both sides have always played competitively, and both teams have proud traditions. It’s a good chance for a couple of good teams in Southeastern Ohio to go at each other.”

Kickoff between Athens and Jackson is set for 7:30 p.m. at Basil Rutter Field on Friday night.