Athens follows record-setting running back into IHSA football quarterfinals
ATHENS — Athens senior running back Ja’Kyan Shanklin seemed to get a first down on every carry.
Either that, or a touchdown.
Shanklin totaled 24 carries for 269 yards and four touchdowns en route to a 57-28 victory over No. 6 Sesser-Valier in the second round of the Class 1A playoffs at the Warrior Athletic Complex on Saturday.
No. 3 Athens (10-1) will travel to No. 2 Carrollton (10-1) for the quarterfinals. The Warriors previously beat Carrollton in the 2019 quarterfinals 55-28.
“It was a great day,” Shanklin said. “As soon as I saw that we were scheduled against this team, I already knew that we were going to have to be ready and prepared to go hard on defense and keep running hard on offense. I already knew that we were going to be ready and try and come out and take care of business.”
It wasn’t quite the single-game rushing record of 371 rushing yards and six TDs he achieved in the Week 5 win over Riverton, but he still set a couple of new benchmarks against the Red Devils.
He broke the single-season record for most rushing yards (1,859) and touchdowns (26).
“The blocking was great today,” Shanklin said. “A lot of holes were open and I read a lot of people and it just worked out for the best.”
Shanklin began with a 2-yard TD run.
Sophomore linebacker Zac Laird then sacked Sesser quarterback Carson Hoffard and forced a fumble on the Red Devils’ first offensive play.
Senior defensive lineman Andrew Edwards recovered the fumble and sophomore running back Camren Bigard, who finished with 145 rushing yards and two TDs, capitalized with a 4-yard TD run to take a 13-0 lead with 6 minutes, 8 seconds left in the first quarter.
Shanklin added a 5-yard TD run to take a 20-0 advantage by the end of the first period.
Athens racked up 223 rushing yards by halftime and led the Devils (8-3) 27-7.
“He’s running hard and we made a concerted effort to just play him on offense and keeping him as fresh as possible,” Athens coach Ryan Knox said of Shanklin. “He gets top-speed fast, and that’s something he just excels at.”
Athens forced three turnovers and chalked up a safety to begin the second half.
Senior defensive back Jared Chandler reached Sesser running back Brock Chelf behind the line scrimmage at the Devils 1. That led to a bad snap and safety on the ensuing play.
Brian Lindsay also nabbed an interception for the Warriors, while Connor Breazeale recovered a fumble.
“Putting on a lot of pressure on them whenever they threw it and then just flying around making plays,” Chandler said.
Hoffard led Sesser with 53 rushing yards and completed 5 of 11 passing attempts for 66 yards. Chelf tallied three TD runs but just 15 yards.
“We got some turnovers today,” Knox said. “There were times we were good defensively but we definitely have to shore some things up. We’re going to have to be better if want to move on.”
ONE LAST LOOK
Chandler surveyed the field following the post-game huddle. He understood this was his last home game.
“It wasn’t so much that the fact that we won that meant a lot to me,” Chandler said. “It just meant a lot to me that I was in there with the guys that I have on my team. It just means a lot to play my last home game for those guys. We’ve been playing together since third grade or fourth grade and we haven’t stopped.
“One last look at the field really got me.”
Shanklin certainly left a lasting impression.
“I really just wanted to win to be honest,” Shanklin said. “But it feels great to know that I feel like I left a mark on this school. Maybe somebody else will come in and break it later in the next years but it just feels good. I feel like I left something here for my last home game, so I had to leave a mark for myself.”
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