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Canton at Athens preview

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Canton’s Riley Parker runs against Montgomery during last week’s game. The Warriors are 7-0 and head to Athens tonight.

Canton PPG–41.7, PPA–5.7; YPG–338.4, YPA–141.4

Canton facts: Playing outstanding team football in all facets, Canton is seeking its second 8-0 start in four seasons. The Warriors also are alone in first place in the NTL-I and can clinch a share of the league crown with a victory tonight. Canton has a one-game lead on Athens and Troy with non-league Hanover on the schedule next week and Troy in the regular-season finale. The Warriors have played ferocious defense, shutting out three opponents and holding six to seven or fewer. Canton has allowed just six points in its last three games and built a 41-6 halftime lead at Montgomery a week ago. Ten Warriors have collected a sack this season and nine have intercepted a pass. Weston Bellows and Wesley Castle intercepted passes at Montgomery and four different players produced a sack. The offensive line has been outstanding, helping Canton run for 274 yards per game. Bellows, Riley Parker, Cooper Kitchen and Hayden Ward all scored last week and all four have gone over 250 yards this season. Bellows also is dangerous coming out of the backfield and caught a 67-yard pass last week. Gavin Morse added a seven-yard touchdown reception. Five Warriors have caught touchdowns these first seven weeks and the team also has produced four different leading rushers. Canton is No. 4 in the Class A state rankings and is perched atop the District 4 playoff standings as it tries earning homefield advantage for the playoffs.

Canton player to watch–Gage Pepper: The junior two-way lineman plays a vital role on both sides of the ball and has helped Canton lead the district in both yards and points allowed per game. He made two tackles for loss in last week’s victory.

Athens PPG–31.3, PPA–6.4; YPG–339.9, YPA–195.1

Athens facts: Until last week, Athens was leading the district in points allowed. And with Athens still only surrendering 14 points in that 30-point win against North Penn-Mansfield, it provides a look at how good that unit has been. Only two teams have scored in double figures against Athens and the 14 points are the most it has allowed. Those 14 points also came after Athens built a 37-0 fourth-quarter lead. Athens blanked Hughesville, 50-0, two weeks ago and can tie Canton for first in the NTL-I with a victory tonight. The offense has come alive as well, scoring at least 44 points in three consecutive victories. Running back Shayne Reid has produced 320 yards and five touchdowns during thes last two wins. Reid also shines on defense and special teams and is third on the team in receiving, catching three touchdowns. Quarterback Mason Lister has been outstanding, throwing for 495 yards and seven touchdowns during the winning streak without being intercepted. He has thrown just one pick since the opener and has two reliable targets in Karter Rude and JJ Babcock. Athens reached the District 4 Class AAA semifinals last year and is 10-4 over the past two seasons. The Wildcats control their own destiny in earning a quarterfinal home game and are fourth in the playoff standings.

Athens player to watch–Karter Rude: A big-play threat, Rude is averaging 21.1 yards per catch and has caught four touchdowns. Rude has scored in four different games and caught six passes for 141 yards and a touchdown in a 35-0 win against Towanda.

Outlook: Points could be hard to come by in a game featuring defenses which have been the high school equivalent of the 1985 Bears and 2000 Ravens thus far. Look for a key turnover or two to be the difference in this physical contest.

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