PEACHTREE CORNERS – With both football teams' leading receivers unable to play due to injuries, both Wesleyan and Athens Academy knew their clash of Class A Private powerhouses would be more of a grind-it-out affair.
It was the visiting Spartans who were able to compensate for the absence of Notre Dame commit Deion Colzie better than the host Wolves could overcome the loss of multi-sport star Cooper Blauser.
Paced by the punishing ground game led by Tre Hawkins, Charlie Chisholm and a powerful offensive line, Athens Academy simply played keep away most of the game, en route to a 35-0 victory Friday night at Henderson Stadium.
Hawkins finished with 117 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries, while Chisholm added 84 more yards on 15 totes, while quarterback Palmer Bush added 191 yards of total offense, including 150 yards and a pair of touchdowns through the air, as the top-ranked Spartans moved to 6-0 on the season.
And aside from 68 yards on 13 carries from Griffin Caldwell, they also never let Wesleyan (4-2) get anything going offensively, mainly because the Wolves only possessed the ball for 13 minutes and 44 seconds, compared to a whopping 31:58 for Athens Academy.
“They're definitely well-coached and talented and they play really hard,” Wesleyan coach Franklin Pridgen said of Athens Academy. “It was clearly obvious they had a great game plan and they know what they're doing. Even when Colzie plays, that's who they are. They didn't change anything.”
The few minutes it managed to possess the ball in the first half, Wesleyan actually did a fairly good job moving the ball.
Most of it was on the legs of Caldwell, who ran for 60 yards on just eight carries in the opening 24 minutes.
But unable to cash in points on only three first-half possessions, the Wolves found themselves being ground down the Spartans' punishing running game, with Hawkins and Chisholm chewing up 65 yards each on three different possessions.
The first of those possessions went for 85 yards on 11 plays and drained 4:57 off the clock before Hawkins dashed through a gaping hole for a 2-yard TD run and put Athens Academy up 7-0 with 4:45 left in the first quarter.
Wesleyan looked like it might have an answer behind Caldwell, who returned the a short kick on the ensuing kickoff 25 yards, and then pounded out 37 more yards on the next five plays to move the Wolves into the red zone.
However, what looked like a sure touchdown came up empty when Ryan Rose's high throw bounced off the hands of tight end Jackson Turner.
Then after the drive stalled, Brooks Sturgeon had plenty of leg on a 33-yard field goal attempt, only to see the kick slide wide to the left to keep the Wolves down by a touchdown.
“You have to make plays when you have (the opportunity),” Pridgen said. “We didn't do enough of that.”
Athens Academy responded with an even more punishing drive on the next possession, marching 80 yards in 11 plays and milking 5:49 off the clock, with Chisholm eating up 36 yards on six carries, and Bush adding two completions for 29 more yards.
Once again Hawkins did the honors by finishing the drive with a TD run, this one from 6 yards out, to extend the Spartans lead to 14-0 with 6:38 left in the first half.
It looked like Athens Academy might add to the lead when Chisholm appeared to convert on fourth and less-than-a-yard for a 30-yard touchdown run.
However, two penalties on Athens Academy negated the score, and a punt allowed Wesleyan to dodge a bullet and go into intermission still down just 14-0.
Despite having had a respite to regroup at halftime, it was more of the same for the Wolves' defense in the second half.
Hawkins, Chisholm and Bush combined for 26 rushing yards in the first six plays of the third quarter before Bush finally threw one over the top of Wesleyan secondary for a 43-yard scoring strike to Ethan Connelly and a 21-0 Spartans lead with 8:42 left in the period.
On Wesleyan's next possession, it looked like the Wolves might get a little momentum going when Rose zipped a pass in to Turner's hands for an apparent first down near midfield.
But before the Wolves' tight end could fully secure the ball, Clark O'Neill ripped it away from him for an interception that gave Athens Academy a short field.
Two plays later, Bush connected for another long TD pass, this one for 39 yards to Jack Nasworthy to extend the lead to 28-0 with 4:45 left in the quarter, and Hawkins added his third TD run of the night in the fourth quarter to put the game away.
ATHENS ACADEMY 35, WESLEYAN 0
Athens Academy 7 7 14 7 – 35
Wesleyan 0 0 0 0 – 0
Athens Academy: Tre Hawkins 2 run (Dru Hunt kick), 4:45
Athens Academy: Hawkins 6 run (Hunt kick), 6:38
Athens Academy: Ethan Connelly 43 pass from Palmer Bush (Hunt kick), 8:42
Athens Academy: Jack Nasworthy 39 pass from Bush (Hunt kick), 6:43
Athens Academy: Hawkins 1 run (Hunt kick), 10:15
First Downs 21 4
Rushes-Yards 46-259 17-62
Passing Yards 150 3
Comp.-Att.-INT 9-10-0 1-8-1
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 1-0
Penalties-Yards 8-65 1-5
Rushing: Athens Academy – Hawkins 16-117, Charlie Chisholm 15-84, P. Bush 9-41, Gio Newsome 2-9, Sam Bush 2-6, Asa Drudge 1-1, Wally Terrell 1-0. Wesleyan – Griffin Caldwell 13-68, TEAM 1-(-1), Ryan Rose 3-(-5).
Passing: Athens Academy – P. Bush 9-10-0, 150. Wesleyan – Rose 1-8-1, 3.
Receiving: Athens Academy – Connelly 3-77, Chisholm 3-18, Nasworthy 1-39, Pratt Ferguson 1-15, Hawkins 1-1. Wesleyan – Bobby Cook 1-3.