The NP-Mansfield Panthers football team (3-4) traveled to battle the Athens Wildcats (5-2) on Friday, Oct. 8 but were unable to overcome one of the top defenses in the Northern Tier League as they fell big by a score of 44-14 to move back to under 0.500 on the season.
It was all Wildcats in the first half, with the Athens team scoring 23 unanswered points to put the Mansfield team down big early.
Mansfield would drive the length of the field on their first drive of the game but was unable to come away with any points and from that point on, the Wildcats would put the clamps down on the young Panthers.
In the final moments of the first quarter, Athens would get their first touchdown of the game as quarterback Mason Lister would find paydirt with 32 seconds remaining in the first quarter on a three-yard run to give them a 7-0 lead.
In the second quarter, Athens would start to put the pedal to the metal as they opened things up with an early field goal by kicker Shane Reid at the 9:19 mark in the second quarter, and would follow that up with two more touchdowns.
Just two minutes later, Reid would score again, but this time on a 42-yard scamper that gave his team a 16-0 advantage.
As the half would wind down, Lister would score his second touchdown of the day, this time on a pass to his big target J.J. Babcock who was able to score from 33 yards out with 41 seconds left to give his team a comfortable 23-0 lead heading into the break.
After allowing Mansfield to drive down the field on their first drive of the game, the Athens team didn’t relinquish another first down for the entirety of the first half of play.
Athens would continue to pour it on in the third, as running back Reid would complete his rushing-touchdown hat trick as he scored from 28 yards out and six yards out in the frame to push his team to a 37-0 lead.
In the fourth quarter, the Mansfield offense would begin to show some life as standout senior Cameron Fabian was able to score two touchdowns in the frame while Mansfield played from behind.
Fabian scored at the 9:40 mark of the final frame on a three-yard run and also scored at the 4:06 mark on a 20-yard pass from quarterback Karson Dominick. Caiden Alexander made both extra points to give Mansfield 14 points, but it was too little too late as Athens would pour on one more touchdown for good measure as Jaden Wright would take a carry 67 yards for a touchdown to bring the score to its final count of 44-14 and hand Mansfield their third loss of the season after winning two-straight contests.
The Panthers struggled to get things going through the first three-quarters of play, and the defense of Athens kept their normally potent rushing attack at bay for a majority of the night.
They were able to gain 93 yards on the ground, but it took a total of 34 carries to get there.
Fabian led the way and was the most effective of the backs using just 10 carries to gather 48 yards and a touchdown.
He also was the leading receiver in the contest, catching five balls for 56 yards and a touchdown and was one of the few bright spots on an offense that struggled to get things going during the game.
Wyatt Wesneski also had five catches for 27 yards while Gabe Bellows and Alex Davis each had a catch as well.
Kohen Lehman, who was coming off back-to-back impressive games, was held in check for the majority of the night as Athens allowed the rumbling back no room to work as he only racked up 30 yards on 12 carries.
Gaven Sexauer added 15 yards on seven carries as well for the Mansfield team.
Through the air, Dominick was held to mostly short throws as he completed 11 passes for just 83 yards and a late touchdown. Dominick only had six incompletions, but the Athens defense did a good job of keeping the athletes of Mansfield at bay and in front of them throughout the night.
Athens was led by a monster night rushing from Reid who tallied 136 yards on just 16 carries with three touchdowns while Lister completed 5-11 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown.
Defensively, the Panthers struggled but senior Sexauer continues to be the premier tackler in the NTL as he had 10 tackles in the loss and has recorded double-digit tackles in 6-7 games and four consecutive games, and sits with 88 total on the season.
Fabian and George Valentine each recorded five tackles as well for Mansfield while Fabian recorded the only sack for the Panthers as well.
With every game becoming a must-win for Mansfield as they close in on the District Playoffs, they will need to be focused as they host the 0-6 Line Mountain team on Friday, Oct. 15 at 7 p.m. as their next two contests come against winless opponents.