By Doug Gorman
It looks like the Union Grove Wolverines really can play with the big boys.
After spending the last two years competing at the Class AA level, Union Grove jumped all the way to Class AAAAA in time for the 2004 season.
Friday night's 31-26 victory at home against Newton County should silence the skeptics who said the Wolverines wouldn't be able to compete.
"I think we found out a whole lot about ourselves tonight," said Union Grove first-year coach Mike McDonald. "It doesn't get any easier from here, but this was a great win."
In a battle of unbeaten non-region opponents, Union Grove improved to 3-0. Newton County dropped to 1-1.
Despite leading by two touchdowns twice in the second half, Union Grove had to hold its breath, as Newton County rallied twice in the half.
Trailing by five points, Newton County had a couple of chances late, but eventually the Wolverines were able to kill the clock.
Union Grove was paced by the offensive play of quarterback Dustin Alley, who ran and threw for a TD, as well a freshman Steven Sylvester, who scored twice and rushed for 194 yards.
"We feel like we have some great running backs," said McDonald. "Sylvester was the one who stepped it up for us tonight in the second half."
With the game tied at 7-all at the end of the first half, Union Grove and Newton County found their offenses in the final two quarters.
The Wolverines set the tone of the second half by recovering the kickoff.
Although they didn't score on the opening series of the first half, Trey Brown pinned Newton County deep with a punt down to the 1.
When it was time for Newton County to punt, it wasn't as successful, as the ball only rolled to its 12.
Sylvester took just one play to take the ball the distance for a 14-7 lead with 7:51 remaining.
Less than three minutes later, the Wolverines were back in the end zone as quarterback Dustin Alley called his own number and scampered 63-yards for a 21-7 lead. Alley dropped back to pass on the play and seeing none of his receivers open, he tucked the football and raced to the end zone untouched.
That's when things really heated up as both teams added quick touchdowns do their side of the scoreboard.
Newton County cut the score to 21-14 when Jon Bradshaw caught Brandon Heath's 74 yard pass just two plays into the drive.
Sylvester added his second touchdown of the night on the Wolverines next series, cutting loose on a 46-yard scamper. The extra point gave the Wolverines a 28-14 lead with 1:37 remaining in the third quarter, but there was plenty of football left.
Blake Hubbard intercepted a pass to stop Newton County's next series, but the Wolverines gave the ball right back with a fumble on their next series.
Then the Rams played the turnover game again as Union Grove's Kyle Lord got into the interception act.
A missed field goal by the Wolverines gave Newton County life and with 7:13 remaining, it cut the Union Grove lead to 28-20 when Bradshaw caught another TD.
Union Grove's final score game on a 28-yard field goal by Macklin Hayes.
The Rams' last points game with 4:39 remaining on a TD by Bradshaw.
Union Grove started the scoring in the first half when Alley hit Travis Burks on a 33 yard pass for the 7-0 lead.
Branon Heath's quarterback keeper tied it up at 7-all late in the first half.