Canton rolls to a victory vs. Athens

CANTON — A 6 p.m. kickoff was not a problem for Canton as its three-headed offensive monster in Michael Smithers, Timmy Ward and Levi Gaiotti, and the Warrior defense showed out in a 34-0 dismantling of Athens Friday night at Miller A. Moyer Stadium.

The Warriors solidified that its now 5-0 record is nothing to sneeze at, blanking Class AAA Athens, and moving on to its toughest game on the schedule next week against Muncy.

“I told them to enjoy it this weekend,” Canton coach Tyler Sechrist said. “Because Monday, they got to prepare for the biggest game of their lives (next week).”

Canton’s defense harassed the Wildcats offense all night as it got to Kaden Rude and into the Athens backfield all night long, giving up just 81 total yards of offense and sacked Rude six times on the night. That kind of tenacity gave way for Smithers, Ward, Gaiotti and the rest of the offense to start drives in great field position for much of the night.

“The defense came off the ball hard tonight,” Sechrist said. “Nick May, Mason Shultz, … there’s too many to name, they all made plays (Friday) night,” Sechrist said.

It took just one quarter for Canton’s defense to gauge Athens offense, and when it knew it could contain running backs Damian Hudson and Nick Watkins, and force Keegan Rude to throw the ball, it was over for the Wildcats. Canton dialed up blitz after blitz and got constant pressure on Rude to scramble around searching for open receivers. Allowing Athens inside the red zone just one time in the second drive of the game.

“We knew they were going to bring the house, and we tried to max protect as much as we could but just didn’t do a good enough job tonight,” Athens coach Jack Young said.

Ward showed why he is an all-state player, as the two-way player shined again with two interceptions and a sack to lead the defense and two receiving touchdowns on offense.

“(Ward) just has ball skills, he’s athletic. If it is thrown near him, he is going to make a play and he had four great plays. Sechrist said.

Just before the half and Canton up 6-0, Ward made an acrobatic one-handed catch in the back of the end zone for a 13 yard touchdown from Smithers. “I didn’t even think he caught that.” Sechrist said about the catch. “It’s just what he does.”

The third member of the backfield monster, Gaiotti (16-127, two TDs) got Canton on the board with a four yard run midway through the second quarter “He’s a force, all 210 pounds of him. When he runs downhill like that he’s hard to bring down.” Sechrist said.

The game got interesting after the half when Athens thought it caught a break. On the first play of Canton’s first series, Gaiotti got the hand off and bounced out to his left for a 43 yard gain, but was stripped at the Athens 25 and the Wildcats jumped on the loose ball at its own 15. Just when there was a sign of life from Athens, it quickly turned on a botched hand off and Canton recovered a loose ball inside the 10 yard line. Which led to a Smithers three yard walk into the end zone tightly holding onto the ball for his second score of the night in a 21-0 game.

“We did not play Athens football,” Young said with a disappointed look in his eye. “We gotta straighten that out next week, that’s what we get with a lot of young kids and we just have to keep battling.”