[By Joe Elerson, Athens Daily Review]

ATHENS­ — The 17th meeting between the Brownsboro Bears and the Athens Hornets went the way of Brownsboro Friday in the Highway 31 championship.

Following last year's 49-42 season finale victory for the Hornets, Brownsboro responded with a 42-29 victory Friday in the season opener for both teams.

Brownsboro coach Greg Pearson said he was proud of the way his team played.

“I tell you these kids' heart, drive and dedication was unbelievable,” Pearson said. “My hat's off to Athens because we had a chance to put them away and we couldn't. They kept fighting, and Coach Essary does a great job with those guys. In a situation like this, it is sad that somebody has to come out on top.”

Athens coach Paul Essary said he was pleased with the way his unit fought back.

“I was proud of their effort, and the way they stayed together and continued to fight to the end. I really thought we had a chance to win it all the way to the end. Until we fumbled the ball, I thought we could score, get the onside kick and score. My hat's off to Brownsboro and Coach Pearson and his staff. They did a great job and played extremely hard.”

Both teams are on the road Friday as Athens travels to Rusk, while Brownsboro travels to Fairfield.

“We have some explosive players on offense, and can score from anywhere on the field,” Essary said. “We showed that tonight and we have to polish up some things. On defense, we need to get better at one-on-one tackling. We have to make some tackles when we are one-on-one. We had some opportunities that they broke for a touchdown or first downs.”

The opening touchdown came with 6:52 remaining in the first quarter as Brownsboro's Austin Loosier pounded his way in from 2-yards out. Ashton Williams booted the PAT good for the 7-0 lead.

Athens came back with a 41-yard run by senior RheJhi Sherfield with 4:27 remaining. Dakota Anderson booted the PAT good to tie the game at 7.

On the ensuing kickoff, Brownsboro senior Saul Williams went 100 yards for the touchdown. The extra point failed as Brownsboro led 13-7.

“We had opportunities where the ball could have bounced different ways,” Essary said. “I thought we could have had a touchdown in the first half, but it was not seen that way. We had to go and play the next down, and fight to play the next play. All phases play a part in the game, and I thought Brownsboro did well in all three phases.”

Williams finished the night with 19 carries for 162 yards and two touchdowns. Teammate Dakota Harmon had four carries for 106 yards.

“Saul had to replace two guys and if he stays healthy and we do our job, that kid has a bright season,” Pearson said. “He played offense and defense so it is tough. Dakota is a kid we brought up and broke some big runs. He had a fumble early, but I told him to keep his head up. He made some hugh plays and I was proud of the defense tonight.”

Brownsboro took a 15-7 lead as Seth Rozell tackled Justin Young in the end zone with 29 seconds left in the first quarter.

Following a 7-yard touchdown from Cole Williams to Devin McGill, Athens had a 52-yard run by Nathan Sims to cut the deficit to 22-13 with 6:52 remaining.

Sims finished with 20 carries for 174 yards and one touchdown. Sherfield added 101 yards on four carries for Athens.

Athens ended the first half scoring with a 36-yard field goal by Anderson for the 22-13 halftime deficit.

In the second half, Williams had TD runs of 8, 23, and 52 yards.

Athens had a 4-yard touchdown run by Taylor and a 78-yard kickoff return for the 42-29 deficit with 3:19 left in regulation.

“Our guys played hard, and I am proud of them,” Essary said. “I told them rather you win or lose, it is the same thing. This game does not define our season, and we still have a goal to get better every week and get ready for district play. We have to get better next week and continue to get better.”

Pearson said he was worried that Athens would fight back and make a game of it.

“We take it down and score and we thought we could get another score,” Pearson said. “But they got the ball and go back and score and returned a kickoff back. They would not quit, and they have an unbelievably tough, gritty, hard-nosed team. I knew they would finish and they would fight until the clock went to zero.”