Another good start for Nashville has propelled the Hornets to football’s final four.
Nashville defeated Athens, 35-14, in the Class 2A quarterfinal Saturday.
Nashville led 21-0 at halftime and then used a late defensive stand to reach the semifinals for the first time since 2004.
“I’ll be honest this won’t hit me until a month from now,” said coach Tim Kuhn. “Auburn is an established program that is used to being here. We haven’t been here in a while so we are going to have to have a great week of preparation. The template is there, we’re not going to vary too much from what we’ve done to get us to week four.”
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to Belleville News-Democrat
The No. 11 seeded Hornets (9-3) will play at No. 12 Auburn (9-3) in next week’s semifinal game. Auburn advanced by eliminating No. 1 Pana, 20-7.
The Hornets led 28-14 following an Athens score with just under nine minutes left to play in the game. Athens set itself up on a first-and-goal at the 3 yard line and a chance to make it a one-possession game, but Nashville held the Warriors without points.
The stop was pivotal to not only preserving the two-touchdown lead, but to keep momentum away from the Warriors.
I told (offensive coordinator Steve Kozuszek) that they were coming hard and I figured if we did a little screen that it would work. They came hard and we burned them on it.
Royce Newman, on his 88-yard, game-clinching touchdown reception
“We had to have that,” Kuhn said.
Nashville turned the momentum into the points that clinched the victory.
Pinned deep in their own territory on third down, quarterback Andrew Kash hit Royce Newman on a quick screen to the right. The 6-foot-7, 260-pound tight end rumbled 88 yards for a touchdown to widen the lead to 35-14.
“I told (offensive coordinator Steve Kozuszek) that they were coming hard and I figured if we did a little screen that it would work,” Newman said. “They came hard and we burned them on it.”
Athens coach Ryan Knox admitted he was caught off guard by the play.
“We told them in the huddle that they were going to run ball, so let’s get a stop and come after the punt because we were out of timeouts,” he said. “But credit them, that was a hell of a call.”
The key play of the first half was turned in by Ethan Reid, who returned an interception 62 yards to put Nashville ahead 21-0 with a minute-and-a-half left before halftime.
“He threw the ball and it got tipped and it ended up coming right to me, so I just took off running to the left and no one was there and I just kept running,” said Reid, who had two interceptions during the game.”
I’ll be honest this won’t hit me until a month from now.
Tim Kuhn, Nashville head football coach
Athens got on the board with 5:31 left in the third quarter, but Nashville answered with a big 13-play, 63-yard drive that ended on a 2-yard touchdown run by Newman.
Schultze had 72 yards rushing and 79 yards receiving to become Nashville’s all-time leading offensive player with 3,906 total yards, passing Justin Morris’ record of 3,771.
“It’s a testament to the career he’s had,” said Kuhn. “As a junior he had a 1,000 yards rushing and he had almost 800 as a sophomore. He runs the ball so violently that I’m scared he’s going to hurt himself.”
Nashville ended with 315 yards of total offense, as Kash was 9-of-15 passing for 221 yards and two scores.
Athens outgained the Hornets with 323 yards of offense, with 161 rushing and 162 passing. Three turnovers and untimely penalties worked against the Warriors.