[By Joe Elerson, Athens Daily Review]

ATHENS — The rivalry between the Athens Hornets and the Van Vandals has come down to the final minutes in the last two ball games between the two schools.

The Hornets defense swarmed on Nebraska commit Aphonso Thomas on the 1-yard line to hold on to a 33-28 District 8-4A opening win at Bruce Field on Friday night.

“I would have given it to him,” Athens coach Paul Essary said. “He is your man and you give it to him. It did not matter who it was because we just had to make a stop.”

Athens put together the game-winning drive with the winning score coming with 6:33 remaining. Quarterback Brandon Boyd scored from 3 yards out. The Hornets went for two but were stopped on the conversion.

“Van played extremely hard and they are well coached. I thought it would come down to whoever had the ball last and that is what I was calling timeouts,” Essary said. “I wanted to have the ball last and it almost happened.”

With the victory, the Hornets extended their winning streak to four straight games. They are 4-2 overall and 1-0 in district play.

“We are one step closer to the state playoffs. We are not in the playoffs and we have not won a championship, but we are one step closer,” Essary said. “We have to clinch a playoff spot before we worry about anything else. We have four more tough games ahead of us.”

Athens returns to action for homecoming at Bruce Field against Mabank on Friday.

The big story line was the running of senior Logan Fuller. Fuller finished the night with 287 yards and four touchdowns on 33 carries. He needed 225 yards to reach the 5,000-yard rushing club and now has 5,062 yards in his career.

“I am so proud of Logan and he gives it everything he's got,” Essary said. “I am so proud of the whole offensive unit because it was not just him and the line does a great job along with the running backs blocking for him. It is a team effort and I am proud of the whole team.”

The Hornets went on an eight minute, 15 seconds scoring drive in the opening quarter to take the early 6-0 lead as Logan Fuller pounded his way in from three-yards out. The Hornets missed the extra point with 3:45 remaining in the first quarter.

Van took the lead with 11:56 remaining in the second quarter behind a strong one-yard run from Thomas for the 7-6 lead. Josef Ruiz booted the PAT good.

The Vandals added to their lead with 6:41 remaining as quarterback Garrett Moseley found an opening and scampered 37-yards to paydirt for the 14-6 lead.

Athens marched right back down the field as Logan Fuller scored his second touchdown from 10-yards out for the 14-13 deficit. Oscar Rios booted the PAT good.

Thomas found an opening to put the Vandals back up by eight points with a 40-yard touchdown run with 1:15 remaining in the second quarter.

With time running out in the first half, Logan Fuller found the end zone once again on a three-yard touchdown for the 21-20 deficit with six seconds remaining.

“We told the defense at the half that we needed two stops. We did not have any stops in the first half and they were up on us,” Essary said. “The offense came through and I don't think we punted at all in the second half.”

In the second half, Athens got it's first stop on defense as they held Van short at the three-yard line of the Hornets.

Logan Fuller scored his fourth touchdown of the game with 5:51 remaining in the third on another 3-yard run to give them their first lead of the game at 27-21.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, Van regained the lead as Thomas scored from 1 yard out for the 28-27 lead.

“That was two very good football teams out here. Both coaching staffs did a great job and I am not surprised in the type of game it was,” Essary said. “I am proud of our guys for continuing to believe in themselves and in their teammates and in the program.”

Maalik Hall finished the game with 10 carries for 97 yards, while Boyd had eight carries for 26 yards.