WARSAW — The first half of the Union-James Kenan second round state play0ff game had the makings of an upset, with the Spartans taking the lead, but the Tigers came back with three touchdowns in the second half to win the game, ending Union’s football season. The final score was 28-14.
When the two teams met during the regular season, the much larger James Kenan team walked away with the win, 44-6. Many people didn’t give Union much of chance Friday. Apparently no one told the Spartans, because they came out ready to play hard and force the Tigers to earn the victory.
Spartan coach Doug Burley was disappointed with the loss, but said his Spartan team played like winners.
“Our boys played with a lot of heart tonight and I am proud of them. We gave James Kenan all they could handle. We were up 14 to 7 in the first half and you could look across the field and see they were twice the size of our boys. I’m really proud of the way we played,” he said after talking with his team at the end of the game.
Both teams started the game with a strong defense until an interception near the end of the first quarter gave James Kenan the ball back. Tiger Da’Quan Williams ran in for the first touchdown of the night from 15 yards out.
Union got the ball back and started their drive from about the 46-yard line. A pass to Daniel Glover, then a hand-off to Bakeem Murphy helped set up the next play. At the beginning of the 2nd quarter, Spartan quarterback Alfredo Garcia ducked, weaved, and side-stepped a defender before tossing a pass to Natrone Banks for a 43-yard touchdown run. Garcia kicked the extra point to tie the score at 7.
The Tigers held on to the on-sides kick, but on 3rd down and 19, quarterback Dominique Barnes was sacked. The punt put Union on the 9-yard line. Spartan Dezmond Faison bolted from the backfield and outran everyone 92 yards down the field for Union’s second score within five minutes. Garcia’s PAT sliced the uprights and the Spartans were in the lead 14-7.
Controversy over the kickoff return stopped the game for almost 15 minutes, with 5:39 left in the first half. James Kenan appeared to have fumbled the return and a Spartan picked it up. Then the Spartan appeared to have fumbled with a Tiger recovering. Some were saying the Spartan player was down before he fumbled. Even the referees couldn’t seem to agree.
The fans joined in with opposing bleacher-filled fans taking turns to see which side could cheer the loudest. Then the coaches from each team walked onto the field. Words were exchanged and the James Kenan players pushed their coach back to the sidelines as he shouted and pointed toward Burley.
Eventually, the ball was turned over to Union’s offense, much to the delight of the Spartan side of the field.
They marched down to the 8-yard line, but a fumble pushed them back to 4th down and 15 with about a minute left until intermission. Garcia attempted a field goal, but the ball went low and right of the uprights.
James Kenan came out determined in the third quarter, scoring two touchdowns within three minutes. The first one came at the 7:46 mark with a 65-yard drive on 12 plays; the second one came at the 5:32 mark when Williams raced down the middle for a 46-yard touchdown run. This brought the score to 21-14.
Union’s offense couldn’t convert and at 8:12 in the fourth quarter, the Tigers scored one last time. They went 90 yards on 16 plays in eight minutes.
With the win, James Kenan moves on to the mid-east regionals and will host Red Springs next Friday at 7:30 p.m.
Defensive stats for the Spartans showed Justin Smith had 9 tackles, Jarel Kerr had 7 tackles and Anfrenee Cromartie had 6 tackles.