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COVID haunts Athens football

COVID haunts Athens football COVID haunts Athens football

Team not at full strength in loss to Abby Falcons

The Athens Bluejays and Abbotsford Falcon ruled the Cloverwood Conference with an iron fist for nearly ten years, combining for nine of the last ten conference titles. It comes as no surprise that this has led to a storied rivalry.

That rivalry continues into the Marawood Conference and remains strong.

“We’ve been playing them the last whatever years in the conference, and they’ve always been at the top,” Athens head coach Todd Diethelm said. “Every time you see that game on the schedule you put an X next to it and get ready to play.”

This year’s contest would not be for a conference title, or even a playoff spot with the WIAA choosing to cancel the state tournament due to COVID-19. But there was plenty to play for last week.

On Friday each team played for love of the game, the joy of competition and the pride of their respective programs.

Each team came into the game with some glaring holes. The Falcons were without starting tailback Ty Falteisek and starting center Carlos Lara. The ‘Jays would be without multiple seniors due to COVID-19 contact tracing, including Dayne Diethelm, who led Athens in a 44-35 victory over Pacelli on Oct. 24.

By the time the lights came on, Athens had less than 20 players suiting up.

“When you miss a couple guys like that, that’s big for your team,” coach Diethelm said. “Those guys are leaders.”

With Dayne, Jake Denzine and others missing, Cooper Diedrich, and Cobie and Kyler Ellenbecker, led the charge in Athens’ 28-22 loss. The three combined for over 300 rushing yards and multiple TDs.

It wasn’t a pretty game, with both teams failing to find a rhythm on offense as the Falcons and Jays combined for seven fumbles and two interceptions, but it was Athens who scored first.

With just under three minutes to play in the first, Cobie Ellenbecker got loose and bounded away for a 37-yard TD that made it 6-0. Diedrich tacked on another two points to make it 8-0.

The ‘Jays joy was short lived, and it only took Abbotsford 15 seconds to respond. The Falcons took the kick-off, and on the first play of the drive, Cade Faber streaked 53-yards to make it 8-6 with 2:31 remaining in the first quarter.

Martin Aguilera kicked the PAT to pull Abbotsford within one point at 8-7, and the score remained this way heading into the second quarter. Fumbles and miscues would prevent the ‘Jays from scoring in the second.

A promising drive was abruptly halted when Diedrich was stood up after ripping off a big gain. Martin Aguilera muscled the ball away from the ‘Jays’ signal caller and rumbled all the way down to the three yard-line. Faber scored from three yards out on the next play.

“We harped on Monday that if we turn the ball over we’re going to be in trouble, but that happens,” Diethelm said with regret. “I mean, they’re high school players, and you see guys do it on Sundays.”

The ‘Jays stopped the two point conversion but Abby held firm and refused to relinquish their lead, and Athens went into the break down 13-8.

But it was a different team that emerged in the third quarter, and after a pep talk from Diethelm, Diedrich came alive. Diedrich led all players with 134 yards on the ground, and he orchestrated an opening drive that chewed time off the clock and that was capped by a five yard TD run from Cobie Ellenbecker.

Diedrich scored the two point conversion to give Athens a 16-13 lead with 8:13 left in the third quarter. Diedrich came up with the goods again when he found Aiden Janke for a 16-yard reception to make it 22-13 with 11:13 in the fourth.

“I felt a little more responsibility in this game without Dayne and Jake and the rest of the guys,” Diedrich said. “I knew I needed to keep the offense going.”

Diedrich cited the two teams rivalry for giving him that extra gear.

“It’s Abbotsford,” he said simply. “We really wanted this victory. It’s a great rivalry. They’ve beaten us the last couple of years. We wanted to return the favor.”

But again, Abby responded, with Mason Carpenter scoring on a 13-yard catch SPORTS

and run with six minutes left in the game. Abby’s PAT was good, pulling the Falcons to within just two points at 22-20.

The ‘Jays next drive was a true turning point. Athens moved the ball to mid-field, but Abby forced a fourth and short. The ‘Jays chose to go for it and were stopped.

Abby took over and took the lead for good with one minute left on a one-yard TD by Hunter Soyk.

Diethelm said the loss hurt, but he found the silver lining.

“It is what it is. Mistakes happen, but we still had fun. We’re still getting a chance to play football.”

COBIE COMES UP CLUTCH- Cobie Ellenbecker takes off for a run during the ‘Jays Oct. 24 game with Pacelli. Cobie ran for 91 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns in Athens’ 28-22 loss to Abbotsford on Friday.PHOTO BY ROSS PATTERMANN

CORRALLING THE BALL CARRIER- Athens junior defensive lineman Patrick Redmann tackles Abbotsford’s Cade Faber from behind during Friday’s game.PHOTO BY SHANON PEEL