No close-proximity tension. No county connection. The two teams aren’t even in the same conference. However, Richlands and Union has become one of, if not the biggest rivalry in southwest Virginia. .
Since Union High School opened, the teams have met eight times. Seven times in the regular season with a lone playoff encounter in 2017. In those eight meetings, the largest margin of victory is a nine-point Union victory in last season’s regular season matchup. Every other meeting has been decided by six points or less. Five of those meetings were won by two points or less.
The overall score shakes out to 206-191 in favor of Union. It seems impossible for two teams to be so close over a seven year stretch, much less two teams with big expectations of deep playoff runs. Both teams have made the playoffs each season since the inaugural meeting.
Here is a short recap of every meeting between the two perennial powerhouses:
2011-Richlands def. Union, 24-22
In the first meeting between the two schools, Richlands defeated the Bears in their first home game. Reece Strong’s field goal pushed Richlands to victory with under two minutes remaining in the game.
2012-Richlands def. Union, 32-30
Behind Colton Staten and Gray Baker, the Blues extended their winning streak to two. The Bears drove late in the game to try and steal the win but turned the ball over on downs inside the Blues 35-yard line with under a minute remaining.
2013-Union def. Richlands, 27-21
Union notched their first win in the rivalry with a six-point victory at Bullitt Park. Brandon Hubbard intercepted a River Michaels pass as time expired gave Union perhaps, at the time, their biggest win in school history. Union had scored with 49 seconds remaining to tie the game at 21, before Hubbard’s pick six sealed the deal for Union.
2014-Union def. Richlands, 29-28
Another year, a similar ending. Richlands stormed out to a 21-0 lead and looked to be in total control before the Bears exploded for 22 fourth quarter points. On the last play, Daniel Hall found Bryce Spear on a 14-yard touchdown pass to tie the game with the subsequent extra-point giving the Bears another heart stopping win.
2015-Union def. Richlands, 42-41 (OT)
For the third straight year, the game was decided on the final play. With the game tied up at 35 going into overtime, the scene was not unfamiliar. Richlands scored on its first possession, to only have the extra point blocked. On the first play of overtime, Braxton Bishop dashed to the end zone from 10 yards out. With the extra point, Union won again on the final play of the game.
2016-Richlands def. Union, 28-27 (OT)
Richlands found their revenge in a comeback victory at Ernie Hicks Stadium. The Tornado duo of John-Luke Asbury and Scottie Ball made the difference for the Blues. The senior pair connected for three touchdowns.
2017-Union def. Richlands, 16-7
In the only meeting between the two schools not decided by one possesion, Union defeated Richlands by nine in Big Stone Gap. The Bears used suffocating defense and a balanced offense to control the game and hang on for the win.
2017-Union def. Richlands, 13-10 (Playoff meeting)
With 2:04 left in the game, Richlands held a 10-6 lead. That is when James Mitchell worked his magic. The now-Virginia Tech tight end’s 65 yard sprint to the end zone to push the Bears into the second round of the playoffs.
Some overall numbers:
One point wins: 3 (Union 2, Richlands 1)
Wins on last play of the game: 4 (Union 3, Richlands 1)
Union leads the series, 5-3
Largest margin of victory: Union: 9, Richlands: 2
Road wins: One each, Union in 2014, Richlands in 2011.
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!!!!