By KEVIN WEAKS
Union City might look back at the second half of its game at Lake County as the point when the 2012 season was saved.
By the end of the first half, it was very close to being lost.
After weathering a week of internal storms and then battling through two more — one from the Falcons and one from Mother Nature — on Friday night, the Golden Tornadoes circled the wagons and played some of their best defensive football in the second half and overtime for a thrilling 34-28 win at Tiptonville.
With the game played mostly in a cold, steady rain, UC shut out Lake County in the final 24 minutes (plus two plays) to break a two-game losing streak and possibly reversing the course of a season that was dangerously close to going over the edge.
“I’m just really proud of these guys because of all the adversity they’ve seen,” UC head coach Darren Bowling said. “That’s the thing you try to preach, that sometimes adversity brings you closer together. When something happens to a family, the family becomes closer, and I believe that’s what happened to us this week. We lost some guys who decided to do other things, and we had some people hurt. The ones that were there became a closer team and went out and won as a team.”
With starting fullback Keylon Hyde benched due to a shoulder injury, lineman Kane Taylor nursing an injured foot and Khiry Lewis recovering from finger surgery to lead a troop of walking wounded, and the roster thinned even more by some defections, the Twisters went into Friday’s game on the ropes.
Disappointing losses to Dresden and Trenton Peabody in consecutive weeks seemed to be all the proof many needed to stick a fork in the team’s season, one that began with dreams of pursuing a second state championship.
Then, when Devon Jones ran over, through and past the Twisters’ defense for three touchdowns in a 28-point second quarter for Lake County, what little hope that still lingered appeared to be long gone.
Well, all the naysayers were wrong.
“I challenged the defense at the half,” Bowling said. “I told them they were going to win the game. It wasn’t going to be the offense. I thought in the second half, they played lights-out.”
Union City surrendered 194 yards and three TDs on 25 plays in the first half, LC’s other score coming via the defense with a sack and fumble return for a touchdown. After the intermission, though, the Tornadoes limited Lake County to 49 yards on 21 plays.
Stopping Jones, who scored twice out of the “wildcat” in the first half, was the highest priority.
“They were overloading to one side, so we had to move some guys around and slide some over,” Bowling said. “The biggest thing is that we had to crash harder with our outside guys to keep them from hitting it outside. We expected them to go inside more, and (Jones) was taking it outside. So, our outside guys had to get tougher. We had to get more bodies over there.”
The plan worked. Pursuing more people with better angles and then gang-tackling on virtually every play, Jones carried just six times for 21 yards. He finished with 136 yards on 15 rushing attempts.
While the first half ended on a sour note for Union City, capped by the Falcons scoring twice in the final minute, it actually could not have started much better.
Despite giving up a three sizable pass plays that moved LC to the Twisters’ 35, Union City held on downs and then drove 65 yards on eight plays.
Quarterback Travis Rutland broke free up the middle for 34 yards to score with 3:50 left in the first period, Cace Cook hitting the first of his four point-after kicks for a 7-0 lead.
Rutland gave his team a 14-0 lead at 10:18 of the second period when he hit Keontre Murrell for an 83-yard catch-and-run TD pass.
UC was on the verge of putting the game away, recovering an onside kick just past midfield on the ensuing kickoff.
But, UC lost a fumble, and then Lake County stole momentum temporarily when Jones took a direct snap and sprinted 58 yards for the score at 8:23.
The scoring blitz continued 57 seconds later when Rutland and Murrell hooked up on the same play for 62 yards and a score. The fourth TD in less than four minutes was another “wildcat” TD for Jones, this time for 27 yards.
A 73-yard drive for the Falcons, helped along near the goal line by a defensive chop block penalty followed by an unsportsmanlike penalty on the UC sideline — the half-the-distance penalties added up to just two yards — set up Jones for a one-yard score with 45 seconds to play in the half. Jones then threw to Jason Mills for a go-ahead two-pointer, giving the Falcons a 22-21 lead.
“We talked all week about one guy not being able to beat us,” Bowling said. “And, actually, we put more emphasis on (Raheem) Flowers because, on film, he’s been the guy who has made big plays for them. We did a good job on him, and then (Jones) came on and took over the game in the second quarter.”
LC’s defense made it a 28-21 lead 13 seconds later when Jones’ blind-side hit on Rutland forced a fumble that Caylan Bargery scooped up and took in for a touchdown
While the defense was challenged to win the game at the intermission, UC offense had to first overcome the deficit.
Starting on their own 33, the Tornadoes overcame a chop block penalty, turned a fumbled lateral into a 50-yard gain for JaVonte’ Moffatt and handed off to Ricky Henry eight times on a scoring drive that tied the game at 28. Henry, who filled in for Hyde with 83 yards on 28 carries, scored on a two-yard run with 7:10 to play in the third.
Union City made a late bid to win in regulation but was stopped at the Falcons’ 23 with one second remaining in the game. Jones then gained 20 of his 21 rushing yards on the final play.
The extra period was over fairly quickly as UC stopped Lake County for losses of one and 12 yards, recovering a fumble on the second, and then handing off to Henry three times to finish it.
Published in The Messenger 10.8.12