The Union Spartans travelled down to Pender County on Friday night, sparring with the Patriots of Pender High School in non-conference football action. After overcoming a slow first half that was riddled with penalties and a costly a turnover, the Spartans pulled away in the second half for the 40-17 victory.
Neither team found a ton of success in the first quarter as possession of the football went back and forth. Pender’s first drive of the game, in fact, was a complete disaster. After the Patriots took over on their own 40-yard line, the Spartans defense came up with several plays-for-loss that pushed back the Pender offense. Throw in a couple of untimely penalties, the Patriots were now punting from their own 16-yard line. The snap, however, sailed over the kickers head, who was able to retrieve the ball in the end zone and return it to the 13-yard line before he was brought down.
Union, now well within striking distance, set up shop on the Patriots 13-yard line, looking to draw first blood. Unfortunately for the Spartans, though, their drive mirrored Pender’s. Two big plays, including one for a touchdown, were called back on a blindside block and holding. The result? Union turned the ball over on downs after being pushed back closer to midfield rather than up near the goal line.
Pender took possession and began to march down field. Now inside Union territory, what was looking to be a promising drive was abruptly cut short by way of a fumble recovered by the Spartans.
With 2:55 left in the quarter, Union took over on their own 40-yard line and began moving the ball in moderation. This drive too, however, was also ended on a turnover on downs as Union could get no closer than the Pender 21-yard line.
The action carried over to the second quarter with the score still knotted at 0-0. Again, the teams traded possession early before the Patriots finally cracked the scoreboard. Union quarterback Cole Bass tossed an interception that gave the Patriots possession at the Spartans 35-yard line. The drive, mostly aided by Union penalties, got all the way down to the Union 35-yard line but Pender could get no closer. With 6:40 left in the half, Pender opted for a converted about a 30-yard field goal for the 3-0 lead.
Union, however, facing the new deficit was fired up and ready to go. On the ensuing kickoff the Spartans got a big kickoff return by Emari Carter to set his team up at the Pender 30-yard line. A couple minutes later, Travone Robinson kicked off the Spartans scoring with a short TD run to make it 6-3. Carter then converted the 2-point conversion to make it 8-3 Spartans with 4:57 left in the half.
Pender, though, answered right back as the scored just a minute and a half later. With 3:32 left in the half, the Patriots reeled off a 27-yard touchdown run of their own to reclaim the lead. After a successful PAT, it was 10-8 as the half was winding down.
On the ensuing drive, Union took back possession their own 49-yard line. With all three timeouts remaining, there was no need for the Spartans to be in a big hurry. Instead, they managed the clock well and strung together a solid that drive that found them first and goal at the 8-yard line with 1:58 remaining in the half. Unable to find the end zone on their first two cracks at it, the Spartans continued to let the clock melt. With 13 seconds left, Carter took fourth and goal and found the end zone for the score to put the Spartans back out in front. The successful PAT made 2-point try made it 16-10 at the half.
The second half of action belonged to Union as the Spartans pulled away to grab their second consecutive victory, 40-17.
After the game, Union head coach Doug Burley was proud of his team for staying calm under the pressure.
“I was really proud of the guys at the way they handle the first ten plays. They stayed clam and trusted what we had been working on all week,” Burley said.
“We made some adjustments at halftime on defense and on offense that really helped us out,” Burley added, speaking on the turnaround his team had from the first half to the second half.
“It was also good to get some of the guys back that had been injured. It was a total team effort for the win.”
With the win, Union sits at 2-1 on the season. They are scheduled to return on home this Friday when they host Heide Trask.
Reach Sports Editor Daron Barefoot at [email protected]