Preview: Undefeated Athens Hosts Alexander In Rivalry Game

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When Athens and Alexander meet in any sport, the game becomes a regional event. 

But there is something special about matchups between the Bulldogs and the Spartans on the gridiron. The rivalry engages vast audiences from the nearby towns of Albany and The Plains, watching to see if their squad will come away from the contest with bragging rights.

This year’s chapter in the rivalry’s history should feature more of the same passion from fans, even though there is an unusual amount of parody between the teams.

Athens (6-0, 1-0 TVC-Ohio) is off to another historic start this fall. The Bulldogs have racked up six wins, dominating their opponents and winning each game by an average score of 53-13.

Alexander (1-5, 0-1 TVC-Ohio), meanwhile, is off to one of the slowest starts in recent memory. After defeating Federal Hocking in Week 1, the Spartans have lost five straight.

Alexander’s recent streak of futility is its first losing streak since 2007, when the Spartans dropped six straight games and finished 3-7.

“We have a pretty young team and we’ve had some guys get hurt,” Alexander coach Sean Arno said. “Our kids, though, even our younger ones, are working to play hard.  We’re making improvements in different areas each week.”

One of the improvements that the coaching staff made early in the season was adjusting the style of offense in an effort to produce more points, and the Spartans have done exactly that.

After averaging 17 points per game in the first three weeks, primarily using the running game, Alexander switched to a more pass-happy attack. They have averaged 37 points in the past three games, riding the arm of quarterback Brodie McGrath and, despite their recent struggles, Athens coach Ryan Adams is not taking his opponent lightly.

“They’ve thrown it a ton the last few weeks and it seems to fit their offensive mold,” Adams said. “Look at the points they’ve scored.  They’re doing a nice job in the spread, and McGrath is the kind of guy that can make things happen off of the scramble.  We need to corral him, because if he breaks loose, something’s going to happen.”

Of course, if Alexander wants to be the team to end Athens’ run at a second undefeated regular season in three years and three straight perfect trips through the TVC-Ohio circuit, the Spartans will have to find a way to stop the Bulldogs’ potent attack and chisel away at their tough defense.

“We’ll have to play an incredible game and make them make a few mistakes to keep them close,” Arno said. “Nobody’s been able to keep them close all year. They’re averaging, what, almost 60 points per game? Those are basketball scores.  We have to slow them down enough and try to stick with them and that’s all you can do against a daggone good team.”

Adams acknowledges the challenge of defending his team is quite the burden on opposing coaches.

“Our coaching staff tries to take whatever opportunities present themselves,” Adams said. “We’re extremely fortunate to have the kids we have. If the defense takes away the pass, we can run, and if they take away the run, we can pass.

“Also, we challenged our offensive linemen to improve last week, and they showed great improvement executing their blocks. Any time the front five plays well helps pave the way to having a great evening.” 

But despite his many weapons, Adams understands this important game will be not be easy for the Bulldogs.

“This is a really special rivalry because, unlike Nelsonville-York or Trimble, so many families from Albany work in Athens that the communities are intertwined.” Adams said. “The kids intermingle, and our guys are going to have to play with a chip on their shoulders if they want to prove themselves.”

And despite the odds that may be stacked against Arno’s team – going on the road to play one of the best Athens football teams in school history during homecoming weekend – the Spartans’ coach has a quiet confidence and is looking for a big effort from his players.

“Our goal is to play as hard as we can and do the best that we can each week. Our kids want to play hard to get this one,” Arno said.

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