PREP FOOTBALL: Athens too much for Bearcats on the road

A trio of Cullman tacklers surround an Athens wide receiver during the Bearcats' 31-17 loss to the Golden Eagles. (Sammy Confer for The Cullman Tribune)

ATHENS, Ala. – The Cullman Bearcats traveled to Athens to take on the Golden Eagles in a huge region game looking to grab a playoff spot, but Athens had other plans and pulled away late to take the game 31-17.

Athens found the end zone first with 9:36 remaining in the opening quarter to take an early 7-0 lead. After Cullman was forced to punt on its opening series, the Golden Eagles drove down the field again and looked to find the end zone, but the Bearcat defense stiffened and Athens settled for a 46-yard field goal to make it 10-0 with four minutes remaining in the period.

Cullman looked to get something on its second series and pounded the ball on the ground behind Jaylen Hughey, Jayden Sullins and Max Dueland. A crucial fourth-down conversion by Dueland put the Bearcats at the 6, but a touchdown pass got taken off the board after Dueland crossed the line of scrimmage to throw the pass, and they wound up settling for a 28-yard field goal by Brody Adams with 10:24 remaining in the second to make it a 10-3 game.

The defense, though, hurt itself on its next series as a pair of penalties wound up costing the Bearcats and a 4-yard touchdown run increased Athens’ lead to 17-3. Cullman looked to answer on its next possession as it continued to pound the ball on the ground, and a Sullins 39-yard run put the Bearcats at the 11-yard line. But Hughey got the ball stripped from his hands on the next play and the Golden Eagles recovered. Cullman forced them to punt and looked to score just before the half. Runs by Hughey and Dueland, plus an 11-yard pass from Dueland to Sullins, put the Bearcats at the 18-yard line. Three straight incompletions, though, quickly halted the drive and a 35-yard field goal attempt by Adams went wide left, keeping the score at 17-3 at the half.

Cullman started out the second half strong offensively, continuing to pound the ball right at the Athens defense. Sullins, Hughey and Jake Dueland gave the Golden Eagles fits, and a crucial offsides penalty gave Cullman a first down at the 22-yard line. A huge 18-yard pass from Max Dueland to Jake Dueland put the Bearcats at the 2-yard line and Max Dueland found the end zone two plays later on a 1-yard quarterback sneak to finish off the 14-play, six-plus-minute drive to make it a 17-10 game with 5:05 remaining in the third period. The defense had no answers on its opening possession as Athens converted on three third-down conversions, which ended with a 6-yard touchdown run with 15 seconds remaining in the quarter to make it a 24-10 game.

A bad snap on the final play of the third quarter backed Cullman all the way to the 13-yard line, and the Bearcats were forced to punt. The running game for the Golden Eagles hurt the Bearcats once again as they converted on three third-down conversions for the second straight drive, which saw them score on a 2-yard run to increase their lead to 31-10. Cullman scored the final touchdown of the game on a 30-yard pass from Max Dueland to Jake Dueland to bring the final score to 31-17.

Sullins led the way for Cullman with 105 yards on 15 carries, followed by Hughey, who added 95 yards on 10 carries. Dueland went 5-for-10 for 81 yards and a touchdown, and he added a score on the ground. Jake Dueland finished with four receptions for 70 yards and a touchdown.

The Cullman Bearcats will look to recover from the loss next week when they travel to Muscle Shoals.

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