Week 11 Preview
Union Bears (7-2, 3-2)
John Battle Trojans (5-4, 3-2)
Last Week: Abingdon def. Union, 35-17; John Battle def. Lee, 20-14
Last Meeting: Union def. Battle, 57-29. Union leads series 5-0
The final week of the regular season sees the Union Bears, fresh off of a blowout home loss to Abingdon, travel to take on the upset minded John Battle Trojans. Battle held off Lee High last week to move to 3-2 in the Mountain 7 and 5-4 overall. Both teams have clinched a playoff berth but each team have motivation to win to improve their seeding in Region 2D. The Bears currently sit at second in the power points but could fall as far as the fourth seed with a loss. John Battle can finish no worse than seventh in the region but could move as high as fifth with a big home victory.
Union is looking to right the ship and regain momentum in the finale. Coming off a drubbing at the hands of Abingdon, Union will need to find a way to rebound and get back in the win column. The Bears struggled to establish any offense in their loss and turnovers, especially on special teams, proved to be fatal. Union only allowed 260 total yards to the Falcons but short fields after turnovers and mistakes allowed Abingdon to rack up 35 points. The 35 points allowed was the most points allowed by Union at home since 2015. Avery Jenkins racked up 164 rushing yards in the game, the lone bright spot for the Bears.
Battle comes into the contest with momentum, as the Trojans have won four of their last six games. Head coach Britt Stone’s team relied on the rushing duo of Dylan Cunningham and Juddy Shaffer to power past Lee High with each adding a rushing touchdown. Seth Scarbrough, one of the leading tacklers for the Trojans, was a stand out on defense and made plays from sideline to sideline. While the offense has struggled to score points at times, the defense has been a consistent, only allowing 20 points per game on the season.
Health will be a major concern for Union, as several players were dinged up in the loss. The most notable injury was star linebacker Mason Polier, who suffered an apparent lower leg injury in the third quarter and never returned. His status for Friday’s game is unknown. If Polier is unable to play, the Bears will need linebackers C.J. Jones and Bryce Guerrant to help fill the void. Stopping the run will be the focus of head coach Travis Turner’s game plan coming into the game after being gashed by Abingdon backs Martin Lucas and William Seymour. The usually stout Union run defense wore down and was exploited in the second half, particularly once Polier went down.
John Battle will look to set the tone early by winning at the line of scrimmage. If the home standing Trojans can keep the ball from a potent Union running attack, they can chew up clock and grind out yards and points. Quarterback Zane Poe pilots the Trojan offense and is capable of making big plays through the air. However, the offense relies mostly on the running back duo of Cunningham and Shaffer that to put up points. On defense, Battle has proven to be a very stingy unit against the run, allowing only 87 rushing yards per game behind stout defenders such as Scarborough, Tyler McCloud and Bryson Denton.
It will be strength versus strength, as Union is a run first team that averages 160 rushing yards per game. Senior back Avery Jenkins is the team’s leading rusher, having already broke the 1,000 yard rushing milestone coming into the final regular season game. With the status of backfield mate Mason Polier in the air, Union will lean heavily on Jenkins as well as getting H-backs Aaron Stidham and Bryce Guerrant more involved. Quarterback Bailey Turner is coming off one of his least productive outings and needs to rebound and prove capable of going down field with the ball to keep the Battle defense from loading the box to stop the run. The Bear defense, anchored up front by Nick Cooper at defensive tackle, has to get stops on third down and allow the Union offense time to work.
Neither team can afford to make many mistakes. Before last week, Union had counted their special team unit as a strength but costly mistakes in the kicking game were a major factor in the loss. Bears kicker Justin Falin has shown capable of connecting on the majority of his attempts when given a chance. John Battle also has a reliable field goal kicked they trust, Jayden Farley, who has made four field goals in the last two games. Field position will also be a major factor, if either team gets to work from a short field on offense they will have a big advantage.
Union is the favorite coming into the contest, but Battle is far from a pushover and has shown an ability to win close games late. If the Bears play relatively mistake free football and win at the line of scrimmage, they can get back to their winning ways heading into the playoffs. John Battle will need to play a mistake free game and limit big plays, if the Trojans can avoid the big mistake and strike on a few big scoring plays, they can hang around and win the game late.
Both teams will be aware that they could meet again in short order. If the chips fall in a certain fashion, Union could be the second seed in Region D and host the potentially seventh seeded Trojans in the opening round of the playoffs.
Notable Team Statistics:
Union: 31 points per game, 19 points per game allowed, 160 rushing yards per game, 3-1 on the road.
John Battle: 20 points per game, 20 points per game allowed, 87 rushing yards allowed per game, 2-2 at home.
**Special thanks to Tim Burnette of John Battle Sports Radio for contributing information to this article.
Seth. Sports fan. Big Stone Gap native. Freelance writer. Knows the difference between a 3-4 and a 4-3 as well as the species of the symbiote from Spider-Man (Klyntar). A decade plus covering local high school sport in one capacity or another. Takes himself very, very seriously. Hire me!!!!