[By Joe Elerson, Athens Daily Review]

MABANK -- The Athens Hornets opened up the District 8-4A Division I schedule with a dominating win over the Mabank Panthers, 41-14, on Friday at Panther Stadium.

With the victory, Athens coach Paul Essary's team is 1-4 overall and 1-0 in district play. The Hornets will now prepare for the Van Vandals, who defeated Crandall, 44-6, in their district opener Friday.

“The most important thing is getting to 1-0 in district,” Essary said. “I don't know what the other record says and we will get ready to get ready for whoever we play on Saturday and Sunday.”

Mabank coach Mikey Thompson's Panthers are 0-5 overall and 0-1 in district play. Mabank returns to action Friday when they travel to Brownsboro to face the Bears.

Brownsboro had an open week this week. They come in with an 0-4 record under coach Jason Hooker.

In the victory over Mabank, the Hornets once again had a strong performance on the offensive side of the ball. The Hornets put together 460 yards of total offense with 404 yards coming from the rushing game. Junior quarterback Xavius Fulton finished with 16 carries for 112 yards and three touchdowns.

“I thought our offensive line came on tonight. I thought they improved this week,” Essary said. “They are getting back to Hornet style football. The defensive line played down the line of scrimmage and the linebackers were running to the ball.”

Essary said he was proud of the way the offensive and defensive lines played this week. The Hornets defense held Mabank to 166 yards of total offense.

“I thought our offensive line came on tonight. I thought they improved this week,” Essary said. “They are getting back to Hornet style football. The defensive line played down the line of scrimmage and the linebackers were running to the ball.”

In the first quarter, the Hornets scored the first touchdown of the game with 2:21 remaining as Noah Bush powered his way in from two-yards out. The Hornets missed the PAT for the 6-0 lead.

On the ensuing kickoff, Mabank's Jacob Collinsworth fumbled the ball as Athens recovered on the Mabank 35-yard line.

With a fourth-and-6 play from the 20-yard line, Fulton scored his first touchdown with 11:52 remaining in the first half. Fulton then found Rowdy Godwin in the corner of the end zone for the two-point conversion and a 14-0 lead.

Mabank had a chance to cut into the deficit with 7:14 remaining on the Athens 10-yard line. Collinsworth fumbled the ball as Athens recovered to end the drive.

The Hornets then put together a five minute drive as Bush scored his second touchdown from 4 yards out for the 21-0 lead. Marcelo Escolano booted the PAT good with 2:18 remaining in the first half.

Athens wrapped up the first half scoring with five seconds remaining as Fulton powered his way in from a yard out for the 28-0 lead. Escolano booted the PAT good.

In the second half, Mabank scored the only touchdown of the third quarter as quarterback Clay Conway scored from a yard out for the 28-7 deficit. Alee Helm booted the PAT good.

In the fourth quarter, Athens added two more touchdowns with a 7-yard run by Fulton and a 68-yard run from Kamion Tanner for the 41-7 lead.

The final touchdown came from Mabank's Ty Mathis with 40 seconds remaining on a 4-yard run for the 41-14 finale.

“We are getting better and we are a better football team. Next week is going to be a new week and I am very proud of them,” Essary said. “I am proud of how they have overcome the battle of not being successful early. That is hard on a young team and they stayed together and believed in themselves. They continued to work hard and it is paying off now when district starts.”

Maalik Hall and Jerquindon Taylor finished with 80 yards rushing for the Hornets, while Tanner had three carries for 72 yards.

Mabank was led by Collinsworth with 14 carries for 48 yards. Conway had 10 carries for 42 yards rushing.

“It felt good, and a win is a win anytime you can get it over anybody,” Essary said. “Mabank did a good job and fought hard and were well coached. The kids never gave up even when they were behind. It was good because our kids needed to continue to fight also.”