WAVERLY — Payton Shoemaker plays like a cheat code in a video game. No, really.
Waverly’s senior elusive, slippery, tough-nosed tailback seemed to glide through Athens’ defense all night long Friday, slicing and chopping his way to a career night.
Shoemaker carried the ball 22 times, galloping for 207 yards and four touchdowns … the last of which came at the 6:56 mark in the fourth quarter to give the Tigers the eventual winning score in a 30-27 resume win over Athens.
“We’ve really been talking about this game. We’ve been looking forward to it, and we knew we were going to be in a battle,” Shoemaker said. “Our line has been banged up so getting them all back has helped a lot. They gave me holes all night long and made my job super easy.”
Shoemaker made making defenders miss look super easy.
After the Bulldogs pieced together a six-play, 80-yard opening drive to take a 6-0 lead (missed PAT), Shoemaker scampered into the end zone from 25 yards on Waverly’s first possession, putting the Tigers ahead 7-6 with 9:29 left in the first quarter.
The next score didn’t come until the second quarter, at the 5:53 mark, when Athens quarterback Joey Moore hooked up with Reece Wallace for a 33-yard score, taking a 14-7 lead (two-point conversion).
PHOTOS: Images from Waverly’s 30-27 win over Athens
VIDEO: Shoemaker discusses Tigers’ season-opening win after career night
SCORES: Check out our Friday night scoreboard
MORE FOOTBALL: Unioto outlasts Vinton County … Adena wins at McClain
Next, Shoemaker was the main instrument used to compose a quick three-play, 60-yard drive that ended in his second touchdown of the day, a three-yard plunge, tying the score.
At 14-14 and with 5:10 left on the game clock, Moore went back to work, finding Corbin Stadler for a 38-yard bomb to give his team a 21-14 advantage. The Bulldogs then forced and recovered a fumble on the Tigers’ next drive before Moore hit Braeden Halbert for a 42-yard score with 35 seconds left on the clock, pushing the lead to 27-14 (missed PAT).
But with three timeouts remaining, Waverly quickly worked its way downfield behind the arm of quarterback Haydn’ Shanks. The junior spearheaded a 42-yard drive that took 27 seconds off the clock before Grayson Diener connected on a 30-yard field goal, sending the game into halftime with Athens leading 27-17.
After Moore passed for 200-plus yards in the first half, the Tigers threw a wrench in the Bulldogs’ passing game after halftime. In fact, after its 27 first half points, Athens didn’t score the rest of the night.
“We didn’t make a tremendous amount of adjustments,” Crabtree said. “They hit us on some big plays in the first half, hit a back out of the backfield and things like that. But we showed some resiliency. We just can’t give up the big play. Athens is a big-play offense and we knew that. In the second half, our tempo really helped us.”
In the third, with 3:17 left on the game clock, Shoemaker scored his third touchdown of the evening on a 22-yard run to cap off a 10-play, 83-yard drive that took 2:14 to finish.
Then, in the fourth, his 17-yard gallop proved to be the final nail in Athens’ proverbial coffin. It came after Zeke Brown picked off a pass on the defensive side, halting what looked to be a game-defining drive for the Bulldogs.
“I think it was a good show of what our kids can do when we get down a little bit,” Crabtree said. “We made some adjustments and didn’t freak out. We talked about playing for each other and just going and playing hard every play, and keep fighting. That’s what they did tonight. This is a great win for us, probably one of the best wins since I’ve been here.”
Alongside his 207 rushing yards, Shoemaker also caught two catches for 24 yards. Shanks was 15-of-25 for 163 yards and connected with Brown on five passes for 46 yards. Penn Morrison also made his presence known, finishing with four receptions for 57 yards.
“Great night for Payton. He made it go for us,” Crabtree said. “I can’t say enough about him. But also, I have to say something about Zeke Brown and Haydn’ Shanks. Zeke came out and had a great night and it’s in his second week of playing inside linebacker for us. Then Haydn’, he’s just a warrior, man.”
For Athens, Moore finished 24-of-38 through the air with 270 yards, three scores and the interception. Nate Trainer was his leading receiver with six catches for 56 yards while Brayden Markins added five receptions for 52 yards.
Next Friday, the Tigers travel to Zane Trace for a Week 2 battle. The Pioneers fell to Logan Elm by a 45-14 final in Week 1. Last year, Waverly beat Zane Trace, 48-3.
“Zane Trace is looking to bounce back from last year,” Shoemaker said. “They’re going to be a solid team. We just need to build off this and get ready for next week.”