[By JOE ELERSON, Athens Daily Review]

ATHENS — Athens head coach Paul Essary knew the contest against Kaufman was going to be a battle.

In the end, the Kaufman Lions handed Athens its second district loss with a 23-20 victory Friday at Bruce Field.

“Kaufman is a good football team, and that is why they are sitting here at 6-1,” Essary said. “I told our guys we are just as good as they were. I knew it was going to be this type of game where someone would win by three or seven points. Kaufman got the breaks and won by three.”

The game-winning touchdown came with 8:25 remaining in regulation as Trey Collier scored on a 37-yard run. He then ran in the two-point conversion for the 23-20 lead.

With the loss, Athens falls to 2-5 overall and 1-2 in District 8-4A play with three games remaining. The Hornets travel to Terrell Friday, with kickoff set for 7:30 p.m.

Terrell (1-5, 0-2) lost to Crandall, 33-0, Friday in Crandall.

“We have three more ballgames, and a lot of teams still fighting for a playoff spot. We will regroup and get after Terrell next week. We have to get better tomorrow and work harder and play better next week. Our goals are still ahead of us just like everyone in this district. The goal is to make the state playoffs. It is still ahead of us, and we have to take care of the next opponent.”

Kaufman (6-1, 3-0) jumped out to a 15-0 lead in the first half as Collier opened the scoring with a 14-yard TD run by Collier. The Lions went for two as Collier found Charleston Miller with 4:22 left in the first quarter.

Collier then scored on a one-yard run with 3:05 remaining in the second quarter. Oscar Morales booted the PAT good.

Athens then scored 20 unanswered as Xavius Fulton found Gary Lyons for a 67-yard reception. Dakota Anderson booted the PAT good for the 15-7 deficit.

Athens cut the lead to one with 36 seconds remaining in the third quarter as Fulton connected with Lyons for a 32-yard touchdown.

Lyons finished with two receptions for 99 yards and two touchdowns.

“We knew Gary had it in him. He hasn't played football since the eighth grade, and he stepped out here,” the coach said. “We were hoping and felt like that by the time district got here, Gary and Javiry Bowman would be able to step up and help. They are coming along right about the time that we needed them. Everybody else is playing well.”

The Hornets final touchdown came with 10:28 remaining as Andrew McBride powered his way in from a yard out. The Hornets went for two, but failed on the pass to Rowdy Godwin in the end zone.

“I am proud of them,” Essary said. “We had some adversity hit us right before the game. We lost a starter on special teams, and on the other side of the ball. We had some kids who had to step up, and play in positions they weren't expected to play. We had to move one to a position he has not played at in over a year.”

After two strong games for the Hornets, freshman running back Nathan Sims was limited to four carries for 13 yards. Essary said Kaufman was taking away the running game of the Hornets.

“It wasn't lowering the load. Kaufman was taking away the run a lot. They were giving us the pass game, and we capitalized on that,” Essary said. “You have to do that, and I thought the offense did that. You have to take what they give you and use it.”

Senior quarterback Xavius Fulton was 5 of 14 passing for 120 yards and two touchdowns. He rushed for 43 yards on 18 carries.

“It was a heck of a game like I told you. We all like to win and we don't accept losing,” the coach said. “I don't want them to accept that, and I don't like to accept losing. That is why they are disappointed and we are all disappointed. I am proud of the guys with how they fought and overcame adversity at the last minute.”