In what shapes up as a too-close-to-call quarterfinal game of the Class 2A playoffs, the Nashville Hornets are looking for any edge they can get against the Athens Warriors.
“They’ve got to travel. That’s the only thing,” said fourth-year Nashville coach Tim Kuhn, whose Hornets (8-3) will play host to the Warriors (7-4) at 2 p.m. Saturday. “I wouldn’t say that’s an advantage, but it is kind of a feather in our hat. We’re at home and don’t have to be on the bus that long. Maybe that will benefit us.”
Seventh-year Athens coach Ryan Knox has the Warriors in the quarterfinals for the sixth consecutive season. He sees little separation between his team and Nashville.
“They’re very similar to what we do offensively,” Knox said. “It’s almost like we’re on the same ride. They do some really good things and have the D-I kid (senior Royce Newman). They’ve got some backs who run the ball really hard. While not overly big up front, they execute really well.
“It’s a 50-50 game and it’s probably going to come down to the wire. Someone’s going to have to make a big play.”
Scouting the Hornets
Nashville quarterback Andrew Kash is 77-for-123 for 1,123 yards and 11 touchdowns. He has thrown just three interceptions. Newman, headed to Missouri, has 29 receptions for 547 yards and eight TDs. Ethan Reid has 34 catches for 358 yards and dual threat Hunter Schultze has 26 catches for 433 yards.
“I don’t think they have a Royce Newman,” Kuhn said. “Maybe that’s something where we have an advantage. Royce, sometimes you just sit back and watch because he’s such a talent.”
The Hornets’ backfield features Schultze (1,081 yards, 12 TDs), Kyle Schnitker (538 yards, nine TDs) and Jaris Dalman (340 yards, five TDs).
Scouting the Warriors
Athens quarterback Nick Hanner is 98-for-211 for 1,752 yards and 16 TDs. He has thrown seven interceptions. His main targets are Devin Richardson (32 catches, 611 yards, eight TDs), Dalton Fletcher (32 catches, 530 yards, three TDs) and Matthew Selinger out of the backfield (22 receptions, 396 yards, three TDs).
Athens’ ground attack is led by tailback Hunter Maxwell (897 yards, 11 TDs), fullback Howard Kline (555 yards, six TDs) and tailback Selinger (490 yards, four TDs).
“Their one wing (Maxwell) kind of carries the load a little bit and then the other running backs contribute,” Kuhn said. “They’ve got decent size up front. Their quarterback’s mobile and throws a good ball on the run. It matches up really well for both teams.”
The Warriors ran a spread offense early in the season, but “shifted gears midway through the year,” Knox said.
“Weeks 1 through 6, we were in the spread. We were throwing the ball 25, 30 times early in the year,” he said. “We had some success with it, but not what we were hoping. (Hanner’s) completion percentage was one of the big reasons we got out of the spread. He was completing less than 50 percent.
“We went back to the offense we were in last year, and that’s what we’ve been in since. We’re in the double-wing set, similar to Nashville.”
Maxwell, a linebacker, also is a key leader on the defensive side of the ball with 84 tackles. Lineman Jacob Taylor leads the team with 97 tackles, 15 tackles for losses and 5 1/2 sacks.
Kuhn lauds the play of Kash at quarterback.
“He’s been huge for us,” Kuhn said. “His completion percentage is in the 60s, his interceptions to touchdowns (are good). Earlier in the year, he was kind of forcing some things. As the year’s progressed, he’s taken what the defense has given and used that to his advantage.”
Of course, Kash has great players around him, led by the 6-foot-7, 260-pound Newman.
“We have some matchup issues I think we can exploit, between Hunter Schultze and contributions from Kyle Schnitker and Grant Reid, who has stepped up for us,” Kuhn said. “Jaris Dalman is coming along at the right time for us. I think we can get him more involved.”
Taking down a giant
Athens pulled off a dramatic 34-27 victory Maroa-Forsyth on Saturday. The Trojans were second in Class 2A last year and won state titles in 2006 and 2012.
“The last time they weren’t in the quarterfinals was (2003),” Knox said. “Yeah, it was a big win for our kids. The challenge is to get them back down to earth a little bit and get them focused on Nashville. They’ve handled it pretty well. We’ve got a small group of seniors, but some good leaders.”
Kuhn knows Athens is on a roll.
“We’ve got to minimize the damage they do in terms of big plays,” he said. “Looking at some of the film from Maroa-Forsyth, they got them early on some big plays. I don’t think they’ll have a letdown. It’s Round 3 of the playoffs, Week 12. They’ve played a pretty solid schedule. It’s going to be a really good game, with both teams coming off big wins.”