By Brian Howard
Dustin Alley's touchdown with less than 1 minute remaining spoiled Mario Fannin's return as the Union Grove High School football team rallied from 21-points down to beat Lovejoy on homecoming night, 27-24, in a Region 4-AAAAA game Saturday at Twelve Oaks Stadium.
”Give Lovejoy a lot of credit, they played well and got us out of our game in the first half,“ Wolverines coach Mike McDonald said. ”I challenged the kids at halftime to step up. The kids showed a lot of heart tonight. This was a big win for us.“
Fannin, who has verbally committed to the University of Auburn, was injured in a 20-19 loss on Sept. 23, returned from a one-game absence to go 27 of 42 passing for 324 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Lovejoy had 400 yards of total offense, with 211 coming before halftime. Meanwhile Union Grove managed just 287 yards.
Despite the big numbers from Fannin, both teams played sloppy as there were a combined 33 penalties (Lovejoy 18) for 254 yards.
Alley, who rushed 14 times for 75 yards and three scores, put the Wolverines ahead for good on a 5-yard run with 55 seconds left. Union Grove went 81 yards on nine plays, helped by a late hit penalty, to get the winning score.
”We hadn't been put in this situation the whole year,“ Alley said. ”Our coaches got us pumped up at halftime. We came out and played as a team.“
Fannin had one final chance to drive the Wildcats (2-5 overall, 0-3 region) for a possible tie to force overtime.
With 51 seconds remaining, the senior quarterback marched Lovejoy down the field with sharp passing. His last completion was a 17-yard gain to Kevin Lewis to the Union Grove 29-yard line. After a timeout by the Wolverines, Lovejoy was flagged for a false start, pushing the ball back five yards.
Ola Ajao's 50-yard field goal as time expired fell just short, giving the Wolverines the come-from-behind win.
”I was thinking overtime if they make it," McDonald said. ”My mind was more on that, but I am sure glad it was short.“
The Wolverines (7-1, 3-1) trailed 24-7 after an Octavious Edge 5-yard run with 3:59 left in the third quarter.
Alley cut the deficit to 24-14 after scoring on a 21-yard run with 1:44 remaining in the quarter. On the play, Wildcats linebacker Kenny Harley was ejected for an unsportsmanlike penalty.
Lovejoy got the ball at its own 30 and went nine plays as the Union Grove defense forced a field goal attempt.
The field goal try by Joseph Dubois was blocked by Union Grove's Kyle Johnson.
The Wolverines turned the mistake into points as Alley connected with Owen High on a bomb down the right sideline for the 54-yard scoring strike. The point after attempt was blocked by Byron Isom, but Union Grove had cut the deficit to 24-20 with 7:19 left.
After the teams exchanged punts, the Wolverines got the ball at their own 19 with 2:34 remaining. Nine plays later, Alley scored the winning touchdown on a 5-yard run.
Chris Hail led all Lovejoy receivers with 10 catches for 137 yards and one score. Ryan Farward finished with two catches, including a 52-yard touchdown reception.
Steven Sylvester carried the ball 14 times for 85 yards to pace the ground attack for the Wolverines.
Union Grove plays host Friday to East Coweta, while Lovejoy, which has lost five of its last six games, travels Friday to Newnan.
Mt. Vernon 32, Bible Baptist of Savannah 0: Mt. Vernon finished the regular season undefeated after blanking, in its homecoming game, Bible Baptist.
Matt Mainre had an 80-yard kickoff return, while Clayton Fielder had three carries for 50 yards.