Turnovers and Starr stymie Jackets

 

By GRAHAM WILLIAMS - Union Daily Times
Managing Editor

Special teams mistakes by Union turned what appeared to be a sure-fire win over Clover Friday night into a nightmare defeat.

Friday's 36-27 loss means that instead of opening next week's state playoffs at home, the Yellow Jackets will have to go to Camden.

The Blue Eagles recovered three onside kicks - converting one into a touchdown - but the backbreaker came when Clover returned a blocked field goal 86 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown.

The Yellow Jackets never recovered; two comeback attempts ended with intercepted passes and the Blue Eagles held on for the victory.

"We knew they were going to try and kick onside but we weren't able stop it," Union coach Tommy Bobo said. "We work on it for 20-30 minutes every practice. They got the momentum going and we couldn't stop it."

Nor could they stop Clover fullback Vince Starr, who bulled his way through the Union defense for 180 yards and 30 carries, while scoring four touchdowns and a pair of two-point conversions.

Trailing 21-6 at halftime, Clover tied the score in the third quarter and grabbed a 28-27 lead on Starr's last touchdown early in the fourth quarter.

But it was the blocked field goal that completed Clover's turnaround and sealed Union's fate.

Quarterback Steven Brewington returned to the game after leaving in the third quarter with an arm injury and drove the Yellow Jackets 83 yards, most of them coming on two long passes to Donte Stewart, who finished the game with eight catches for 177 yards and a touchdown.

The drive stalled at Clover's 8-yard line, and on fourth down, David Gregory attempted a 24-yard field goal that would have given Union a two-point lead. Instead, the kick was blocked, Colton Thompson scooped up the loose ball and raced down the sideline for the clinching score. Starr ran for the two-point conversion and the final nine-point margin.

The first half was all Union, as the Yellow Jackets struck for three first-quarter touchdowns, the first one coming on a special teams miscue by Clover when Troy Epps blocked a Blue Eagle punt and Lafayette Dawkins returned it one yard for the score.

Another special teams mistake minutes later led to Union's second touchdown. Instead of kicking the ball, Crawford threw it to Matt Kepple in the flats, but Travis Norris dragged him down  for a one-yard loss at Clover's 17-yard line. Two plays later, Kendrick Neal scored from four yards out, dragging Clover tacklers with him, for a 14-0 Union lead.

A third special teams blunder resulted in Union's next score. After a Gregory punt, a Cliff Patrick tackle jarred the ball loose from the Clover receiver and Pip Smith fell on it at the Clover 24. Brewington then found Stewart streaking down the right sideline for the score and a 21-0 Yellow Jacket lead.

Clover recovered an onside kick to open the second half and drove 46 yards in nine plays to cut the margin to 21-14 on Starr's three-yard run and two-point conversion.

Union struck back late in the third quarter when Neal took a handoff from Cameron Willis and scooted 34 yards for a score. Gregory's point-after kick was wide, however, setting up the fourth-quarter fireworks.

Union ends the regular season 3-2 in Region III 3-A and 5-5 overall.

Union  21  0    6    0 - 27
Clover   0  6  15  15 - 37

U - Dawkins 1 blocked field goal return (Gregory kick)
U - Neal 4 run (Gregory kick)
U - Stewart 24 pass from Brewington (Gregory kick)
C - Starr 2 run (kick blocked)
C - Starr 3 run (Starr run)
C - Starr 6 run (Crawford kick)
U - Neal 34 run (kick failed)
C - Starr 10 run (Crawford kick)
C - Thompson 86 blocked field goal return (Starr run)

Unofficial statistics
First downs: Union 13; Clover 18
Yards rushing: Union 92; Clover 271
Yards passing: Union 218; Clover 5
Passing, A-C-I: Union 14-27-3; Clover 2-7-0
Penalties: Union 8-56.5; Clover 5-42

Individual statistics
Rushing: Neal (U) 14-66, Broadus (U) 1-9, Dye (U) 1-8. Starr (C)
30-180, Boyd (C) 8-80, Thompson (C) 2-4, Cook (C) 8-7.
Passing: Brewington (U) 14-26-3, 218 yards; Willis (U) 0-1-0, 0
yards; Cook (C) 2-7-0, 6 yards; Crawford (C) 1-1-0, -1 yards.
Receiving: Stewart (U) 8-177 yards.