PREP FOOTBALL: Bearcats smother Athens at home 10-3

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Cullman celebrates after Nate Zills’ 35-yard field goal in the final two minutes of the Bearcats’ 10-3 win over Athens Friday night. (Nick Griffin/The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – The Cullman Bearcats returned home to Oliver Woodard Stadium for the final time in the regular season and put together a phenomenal defensive performance to top the Athens Eagles 10-3. The ‘Cats generated four turnovers in the win and an early touchdown pass from Ryan Skinner to Kaleb Heatherly along with a late field goal by Nate Zills was all they needed to hold off the Eagles and collect a big region win.

Athens turned the ball over on downs in Cullman territory on their first possession but got the ball right back when the Bearcats fumbles just two plays later. However, the ‘Cats regained possession when a fumble was knocked up into the air and plucked out of the sky by Jamar Kay on the Cullman sideline midway through the opening quarter. Both teams traded punts on their next possessions but after a scoreless first quarter came to an end, the Bearcats got on the board at the start of the second when Skinner dropped back and hit a wide open Heatherly 25 yards down field for a touchdown. The extra point from Zills gave Cullman a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter.

The black and gold defense shined once again on the next Eagles possession when safety Dylan Sessions dove to pick off a pass and give the ball back to the offense. Both teams were forced to punt on their next possessions, but Athens was able to put a drive together late in the second quarter and kicked a field goal to put points on the board and cut the lead to 7-3 at halftime.

The ‘Cats punted on the opening possession of the third quarter but another fumble from the Eagles was recovered by Cole Robertson and Cullman’s offense was back on the field. Athens got back into field goal range late in the third quarter, but the kick was wide right, and the Bearcats went into the fourth quarter with a 7-3 lead.

After a huge sack by Patton Elkins on third down, the Eagles were forced to punt with around seven minutes remaining in the game and the ‘Cats put together a methodical, time-consuming drive that knocked over five minutes off the clock. Cullman was stopped short on a third down in Athens territory, but the Bearcats were close enough for Zills to step up and drill a 35-yard field goal and give them a 10-3 lead with 2:02 to play. The Eagles had one more chance to tie the game but after three incompletions, an interception by Tanner Gaines iced a 10-3, region victory for the ‘Cats.

Jake Dueland led Cullman with 62 rushing yards on 13 carries and Noah Kee finished just behind him with 61 yards on six carries. Evan Dye added 26 yards on five attempts and Skinner was 2/4 through the air with 29 yards and a touchdown pass to Heatherly. The Bearcats will finish the regular season on the road against Muscle Shoals next week and a win over the Trojans would give Cullman a chance to host an opening round playoff game.

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