By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC
Derrick Craine and Tyler Vaughn were not ready for that losing feeling to return to their Union Grove locker room.
The seniors, who had endured a record of 8-12 over the previous two seasons, began this campaign with two straight wins. Then came a 39-0 thumping at the hands of Whitewater in Game 3. But Craine and Vaughn decided that loss would be enough for their last campaign.
After a serious talk with their mates, the Wolverines bludgeoned their next four opponents by a combined score of 140-20. Friday night, Mundy’s Mill was next.
Union Grove (7-1, 4-0 in Region 4AAAAA-Division A) scored 28 unanswered points in an 18 minute period from the start of the second quarter to the middle of the third. The result was a 35-13 shellacking of the visiting Tigers (3-5, 3-1), which put the Wolverines firmly in control of their post season destiny. A win at Drew next week would give Union Grove the top seed in the region play-in game, where they would face the fourth seed from other side of the sub region on Nov. 9, in a battle for a playoff birth. It would be the Wolverines’ first playoff appearance since 2009.
“That Monday before practice, me and Tyler got [the team] together in the locker room and had a pretty long talk,” Craine, who rushed for 147 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries, said of the team meeting after the Whitewater loss. “We told them we can’t play like that again, and it’s going to take a lot of blood, sweat and tears for us to get better.”
“We’ve lost too many times,” said Vaughn, a linebacker, who led the defense with two tackles for losses. “We weren’t going to go back to that.”
That attitude came to the front after Mundy’s Mill tied the score at 7-7 early in the second quarter on an 8-yard run by junior tailback Rodney Smith. The score capped a 51-yard drive for the Tigers, with most of the damage being done on the ground by Smith.
But that’s when what looked to be a tight ball game turned into a rout. On the ensuing possession on second and long, sophomore running back Luke Parker took a screen pass from quarterback Jonathan Slade, also a sophomore, and dipped and darted 37 yards for a touchdown.
The diminutive Parker, who is one of the state’s best lightweight wrestlers, struck again on Mundy’s Mill’s next possession. On third-and-10 from the Tigers’ 42-yard line, the shotgun snap sailed over the head of sophomore quarterback Rodricous Gates, who made matters worse by trying to kick the ball 30 yards out of the back of the end zone. However, he whiffed on the kick and the ball bounced into the hands of Parker, who sprinted 25 yards for the score.
Mundy’s Mill went three-and-out on its next possession, and the Wolverines wasted no time in scoring again. On their first play, Slade lofted a pass down the near sideline to junior receiver Caleb Ham, who out sprinted the defender and raced 56 yards to give Union Grove an insurmountable 28-7 lead with just 35 seconds left in the half.
The Wolverines added to the barrage on the first possession of the second half when they drove 67 yards on 12 plays, with Craine taking it in from 9-yards out.
Smith had a good night at times running the ball for the Tigers (22 carries for 120 yards), but the Union Grove defense stood tall when it had to, including a goal-line stand midway through the fourth quarter when the game’s outcome was no longer in doubt.
“We have a very mature group of seniors,” head coach Paul Bergdorf said. “They decided that they were not going to let the Whitewater game define our season.”
Mundy’s Mill 0 7 0 6 13
Union Grove 7 21 7 0 35
UG – Derrick Craine 13 run (Shawn Davis kick)
MM – Rodney Smith 8 run (Loic Chimi kick)
UG – Luke Parker 37 pass from Jonathan Slade (Davis kick)
UG – Parker 25 return of bad snap (Davis kick)
UG – Caleb Ham 56 pass from Slade (Davis kick)
UG – Craine 9 run (Davis kick)
MM – Eric Tate 28 pass from Rodricous Gates (kick failed)