Coming in to Fridays Region 2D quarterfinal matchup against Gate City, Union was focused on stopping Gate City’s rushing attack of Michael Calhoun and Logan Tomlinson, who both rushed for over 100 yards against the Bears back in late September. Instead, Gate City used a spread offense look that almost propelled them to an upset victory over Union inside Bullitt Park. Union got 145 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns from Mason Polier in the fourth quarter and a successful PAT from Tadyn Roark with just over five minutes remaining that allowed Union to preserve a 20-19 victory.
“We expected this to be a tough game, Gate City is a tough opponent.” stated Union head coach Travis Turner. “They have some tough kids, hard nosed. I’m super proud of our bunch, we just fought and battled and played with a lot of guts.”
After a sloppy first quarter that saw each team swap turnovers a couple times, Polier hit paydirt on the first play of the second quarter. The PAT was wide left and Gate City held a 6-0 lead to open scoring. Later in the second quarter, after a Gate City punt, Bryce Guerrant put the Bears in business again with a 57 yard run to the Gate City 30 yard line. After two Polier runs and a run from Guerrant, Union was faced with a 4th and inches. The Gate City defense stiffened and threw Polier down behind the line of scrimmage to force the turnover on downs with 6:40 remaining in the first half. The Blue Devils were not able to do anything with the turnover as Union forced Gate City in to a three and out. Union drove the ball down the field once more before half and once again came away empty handed as Tadyn Roark was just wide left on a 39 yard field goal attempt with 1:35 remaining before halftime. Gate City took over from the 20 yard line and quickly moved to midfield after a 15 yard pass from Luke Reed to Carson Jenkins and a facemask penalty on the Bears. After two completions to force a 3rd and 10, Reed found Levi Rhoton for 15 yards and a first down to the Bears 35 yard line with 15 seconds remaining. Gate City was then aided by a horse collar call on Union that moved the ball down to the Bears 14 yard line. The drive looked like it would come to a halt after a bad snap moved the ball back eleven yards to the Union 25 yard line with 3 seconds showing on the clock. On the last play of the half, Reed was able to move around and buy some time to throw a desperation pass to the corner of the end zone that fell right in to the waiting arms of Carson Jenkins. Reed split the uprights on the PAT and Gate City led 7-6 at halftime.
After halftime, Gate City moved the ball inside the Bears 30 yard line but turned the ball over on downs and Union moved the ball down to the 22 yard line of Gate City and came away one yard shy of a first down on an 8 yard pass to Antwun Jenkins with 6:31 remaining in the third quarter. The Blue Devils would then march 78 yards on 14 plays that saw them convert a 4th and 3 and a 3rd and 15. The drive would end in a 7 yard touchdown pass from Reed to D’Andre Mack with 1:35 remaining in the third period. Reeds PAT was no good and Gate City led 13-6. The Blue Devils then tried to catch Union napping with an onside kick attempt but Alex Rasnick was able to pounce on the ball at the Union 37 yard line. After Guerrant was sung for a loss on the first play of the drive, Polier would be unleashed. Five straight carries from Polier and he was darting in to the end zone from 22 yards out to tie the game at 13 all with 10:39 remaining in the ball game. Not to be turned away, Gate City would answer. A 29 yard pass play to Jenkins and a 23 yard run from Michael Calhoun put the Devils inside the Bears 30 yard line in just four plays. After two consecutive one yard runs from Jenkins and Ethan Fleming, Gate City was faced with a 3rd and 8 from the Union 26 yard line. Reed was able to avoid the pass rush, step up in the pocket and float a pass in the corner of the end zone to a wide open Jon Sallee for a 26 yard touchdown strike with 7:47 remaining in the contest. The PAT was no good and Gate City led 19-13. After the squib kick, Union took over at their own 35 yard line. Two runs from Polier and Guerrant had Union staring at a 3rd and 6 from their own 39 yard line. With the cowbells clanging from the Gate City stands, quarterback Brody Gibson calmly called his own number on an option run and raced thirty yards up the gut of the Gate City defense down to the Blue Devils 31 yard line. Three Mason Polier carries later and Union was back in the end zone with a little over five minutes remaining in the contest. Tadyn Roark, who missed the 39 yard field goal earlier in the game, redeemed himself and calmly split the uprights on the PAT to give Union the 20-19 lead. Gate City would be able to move the ball down to the Bears 25 yard line but the Union defense would force the Devils in to a turnover on downs after Reed was only able to pick up two yards on a 4th and 6 with 3:10 remaining in the game. Gate City would never get the ball back as Polier busted through the Devils defense on the first play from scrimmage for a 27 yard pick up and later seal the game on a 3rd and 4 with an 11 yard gain. Union would then jump in to the victory formation and live to fight another day.
“This bunch plays with a lot of guts, a lot of guts and a lot of grit.” Added Turner. “It’s been a tough road. Our schedule is pretty tough, our district is very tough. Tonight we would take a punch in the face and come back and throw one.”
Mason Polier once again led the way for the Bears on the ground with 270 yards on 39 carries to go along with his 3 touchdowns. Polier was quick to give credit to his offensive lineman for doing the dirty work up front. Seniors Dale Stidham, Trevor Wagner, Ethan Church, Junior Carson Ray and Freshman Zack Hall form a front that has paved the way for a lot of rushing yards this season for the Union backfield. Also guys like C.J. Jones blocking out of the backfield and tight ends Ethan Mabe, Landon Parsons and Trey Smith have been reliable blockers on the edges for the Bears rushing attack.
“They opened it up for me tonight. The line, they do a great job, my tight ends, everyone. They do a tremendous job night in and night out.” Stated Polier. “We shot ourselves in the foot a lot tonight. We killed ourselves in the red zone a couple times and that was big for their momentum. I’m proud of the way our guys battled tonight. The line set the tone up front, especially on the last couple drives and opened everything up and I was able to close it out, I enjoy these big games and I always like having the ball in my hands.”
Bryce Guerrant tallied 69 yards on only 7 carries for the Bears while Gibson completed 2 of 4 passes for 30 yards. Both passes were completed to Antwun Jenkins as he tallied the 30 yards receiving. Luke Reed of Gate City completed 11 of 24 passes for 165 yards and 3 touchdowns. Carson Jenkins reeled in 3 passes for 70 yards and a touchdown while D’Andre Mack caught 3 passes for 33 yards and a touchdown. Jon Sallee also caught a touchdown pass for Gate City.
Union, who committed 10 penalties for 110 yards, sets their sights on Graham. The Bears defeated the G-Men 37-35 back on September 20th at Mitchell Stadium in Bluefield. This will be the fourth meeting in the playoffs between the two teams in the last five years. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. Friday night inside Bullitt Park.