BIG STONE GAP — Stuarts Draft football coach Rod Bowers summed up his team’s VHSL Group A, Division 2 playoff game against Union on Saturday by calling it a 15-round heavyweight fight.
Sticking with that analogy, Union went the distance and landed a lot of good licks before losing a split decision.
But that proved to be cold comfort to the Bears, who let plenty of opportunities slip through their fingers in a 28-21 loss to the Cougars at Bullitt Park.
“It was a slugfest,” Union coach Travis Turner said. “They had some big plays and we had some big plays, but they made a few more than we did.
“We let a few slip through our hands, too.”
A pair of mishandled kickoffs in the first half helped the Cougars take control of the game and build a 21-7 halftime lead. In the second half, dropped passes played a part in stalling several promising Union drives.
After scoring on the first possession of the second half to close the gap to 21-14, Union didn’t put together another scoring drive until the final two minutes of the fourth quarter.
By that point, Union was down 28-14 and needed a miracle. The Bears took care of business by engineering a frantic seven-play, 60-yard drive in just under two minutes to give themselves a chance with 1:39 remaining in the contest.
But an onside kick attempt found its way securely into the arms of one of Stuarts Draft’s upbacks, allowing the Cougars to run out the clock.
Stuarts Draft surged to the lead behind a running game that is best described as the world’s fastest shell game. With quarterback Chris Knecht wheeling and dealing to a stable of backs, the Cougars stomped their way to 285 rushing yards and four scores.
With the running game humming right along, the Cougars’ passing attack remained dormant for most of the afternoon. Knecht misfired on his first three attempts, all of which came in the first quarter.
But with his team clinging to a 21-14 lead and facing a key third-and-10 with 4:39 remaining in the game, Knecht finally connected on a 26-yard pass play to keep the drive alive. Two plays later, running back Tre’Avon Terrell jetted 42 yards into the end zone to score the eventual game-winning TD.
“He can miss his first three (passes) and hit that one,” Bowers said. “I’d rather have that one.”
Terrell finished with 134 yards on 13 carries with two touchdowns while Trey Bell rushed for 73 yards and a score. Ahmad Cunningham also rumbled for a touchdown for the Cougars, who knocked Union out of the playoffs for the second straight year.
Jake McCray led Union’s rushing attack by picking up 121 yards on 14 carries. Mekyah Davis had 85 yards rushing and a TD for the Bears while Ben Baugh ran for two touchdowns.
Even though the ball didn’t bounce the Bears’ way on Saturday, Turner is pleased with the way the program is shaping up after two seasons.
Union loses only eight seniors, so the coach is optimistic about the future.
“We’re making progress,” Turner said. “We’ve got two communities coming together and supporting this program. We’re going in the right direction.”