FOOTBALL

Despite big rushing game, Athens falls short to Decatur St. Teresa in IHSA second round

Ryan Mahan
State Journal-Register
With victory out of reach, starters get hugs and handshakes from coaches as they are taken off the field in the last few minutes of the game against St. Teresa High School Saturday Nov. 5, 2022.

ATHENS — Two 100-yard rushers weren’t enough as Athens lost a 59-33 Class 2A second-round playoff game to Decatur St. Teresa at the Athens Athletic Complex on Saturday. 

Senior Camden Austin had 140 yards rushing and one touchdown while junior teammate Cory Craig Jr. ran 24 times for 129 yards and two touchdowns on a windy day. 

St. Teresa coach Mark Ramsey said Athens had the best day running the ball of any opponent it faced this season.

"No doubt," Ramsey said. "It's a lot of deception, three guys who can all run it and a line that can really get off. I knew they were going to be tough and they really were."

More:Where and when Springfield-area teams play in the 2022 IHSA football playoffs

But a 90-second span in the game, from the end of the second quarter to the beginning of the third, put the No. 9 Warriors (8-3) in too big of a hole to climb from against the Bulldogs.

Athens High School's Cory Craig Jr. runs the ball during the game against Decatur St. Teresa on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022.

Turning point of the game

With the score tied 21-21, Athens forced top-seeded St. Teresa to punt midway through the second quarter. Athens controlled the clock with ball control, and it seemed as if the Warriors could not only score but leave the Bulldogs with little, or no, time before halftime.

On fourth-and-3 from the St. Teresa 12-yard line, Athens quarterback Drew Cushman was picked off by St. Teresa's Billy Guyse with 1 minute, 11 seconds left in the half. Four plays later, on a fourth-and-11 from the Bulldogs 42, St. Teresa quarterback Joe Brummer found Jeremy Walker for a 58-yard touchdown.

St. Teresa opened the third quarter with the ball and in one play, Brummer hit Walker again who sprinted in for a 54-yard score. The Bulldogs had successfully ran in two-point conversions on both point-after tries for a 37-21 lead just nine seconds into the third quarter.

"We were still going to have to get stops in the second half, which we were going to struggle to do that," Athens coach Ryan Knox said. "But the momentum shift was major."

Four minutes later, St. Teresa running back Ja'Carrion Jones scored on an 8-yard run for his second score and the Bulldogs put a huge hold on the Warriors with a 45-21 lead.

"We got that stop and then the touchdown right before the half, got the momentum, came out and scored on the first play," Ramsey said. "They're (Athens) tough and they do a nice job of running that wing-T, they're really disciplined and we had our hands full."

Jones had four touchdowns and 135 yards on 18 carries.  

Athens had 381 yards of offense but was stopped when the game was on the line. It didn't help that the Bulldogs amounted 428.

"I thought we'd be able to move the ball; I really did," Knox said. "I thought we'd be able to stop them a little more than we were able to."

Athens High School's Zac Laird misses a catch as Athens begins to fall behind in the game against St. Teresa High School Saturday Nov. 5, 2022.

St. Teresa (11-0) will face No. 4 Pana (10-1) in the quarterfinals. Pana beat No. 12 Fairfield (7-4) 68-50 on Saturday.

Athens will enter the 2023 season with almost its entire roster intact. The Warriors will graduate just six players. Included in the returning player will be Cushman, the junior QB.

"The last three or four weeks, he's really come on in terms of throwing the ball," Knox said. "It's nice knowing we have him back next year, for sure."