MUSCLE SHOALS – Keevon Hankins acknowledged the Muscle Shoals football team had big goals entering the 2019 season.
“Coming into the season all we talked about was a state championship,” the senior running back said.
That will take five wins over five weeks once the playoff start, but in the meantime the Trojans reached a more modest goal Friday by securing their first region championship since 2015.
Muscle Shoals beat Athens 49-21, completing a dominant run through Class 6A, Region 7 and ensuring they will open the playoffs as a No. 1 seed against a No. 4 seed from Region 8.
The Trojans (9-0, 5-0) can close the regular season undefeated with a win at Wetumpka next week. Athens (6-2, 4-1) will be a No. 2 seed in the playoffs.
“The big thing with Muscle Shoals is they’re so good defensively. I don’t see any weaknesses on their team overall,” Athens coach Cody Gross said. “That’s a dadgum good high school football team.”
Facing the team he left after last season to come to Muscle Shoals, senior quarterback Logan Smothers threw three touchdowns and ran for another.
“It was a little tense at first, kind of some words going back and forth,” Smothers said. “That’s just part of it. That’s what I expected. But it was a good game.”
Smothers grew up around many of the current Trojans before leaving for Athens earlier in his career and then returning this year.
“He’s been with this bunch and he’s been with that bunch. I said ‘Look, it’s just a ball game.’ It’s not about the opponent, it’s about the opportunity,” Muscle Shoals coach Scott Basden said. “He’s a mature guy. He understands that.”
Muscle Shoals seized control quickly, taking advantage of a fumbled opening kickoff and a couple Athens penalties for good field position on its first two drives. Brooks Berry’s four-yard run and Smothers’ five-yard run gave the Trojans a 14-0 lead.
Athens’ Jordan Scott ran for a 53-yard touchdown late in the first quarter, but Muscle Shoals answered with a short touchdown pass from Smothers to Nick Griffith. Caleb McDougle blocked a punt and Javar Strong scooped the ball up for a touchdown.
Scott found Braden Gross for a 66-yard score late in the first half, but Muscle Shoals had time for a 74-yard drive capped by Smothers’ short pass to Eugene Malone and took a 35-14 halftime lead.
Hankins, who was injured in the season opener against Deshler, had knee surgery and has slowly worked his way into the Trojan offense, smiled broadly after breaking a 68-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second half. Smothers added a touchdown pass to Ty Smith, and Athens followed with a Jaeden Cates two-yard touchdown run in the final minutes.
“You’ve got to have a group of guys that are just so resilient and tough that (they say), Hey, whatever it takes, we’re going to get this thing done,” Gross said. “And we’ve got some guys that are like that, so I feel good going forward.”
Smothers was 21-of-27 for 261 yards. McIntosh had six catches for 85 yards and Smith six for 75. The Trojans have been so dominant they have not faced a tense fourth quarter all season but will probably have to at some point to win a state title.
“I would think with their maturity level they could handle it,” Basden said. “We might get that game this week. Wetumpka’s pretty good. So, we’ll see. It’s a good challenge for us this week. We’ll see what happens.”