By Brian Paglia
At the penultimate point of the season, with a first-round playoff game against Windsor Forest four days away, Union Grove was searching for a quarterback.
Starting quarterback Ty Moore had gone down with an injury. His season was over, leaving the Wolverines with a significant void to fill. Moore had won no postseason honors for his play in two years as a starter, but he'd won his teammates' respect and confidence.
"The kids believe in him. The coaches believe in him," Union Grove coach Steven Collins said. "Everybody just kind of held their breath."
Collins could have picked Moore's replacement from a few underclassmen quarterbacks, players that he said give the Wolverines great assurance for the future. Instead, he choose sophomore running back T.J. Moon.
"We wanted to put the ball in a player's hands," Collins explained. "We've got some young quarterbacks that we feel very good about for the future, but with the state playoffs we wanted to put the ball in the hands of a kid that's got a lot of experience. That's why we thought of T.J."
So Union Grove tweaked its offense, utilizing its Wildcat package to a greater extent, but maintained its philosophy to spread the ball around to all its playmakers.
With Moon at the controls, the Wolverines were wildly successful. Union Grove scored a season-high 47 points, amassed over 250 rushing yards and had four different offensive players score. Moon rushed for 96 yards on 14 carries and completed 3 of 4 passes.
With another week to polish its offense, Union Grove (9-2) hopes its improvisation can continue to work wonders against Northside-Warner Robins (10-1) tonight in the second round.
"The good Lord smiled on us," Collins said. "T.J. did a great job last week. We're going to ask him to do some things (tonight), go out there and play with some confidence."
Moon said he didn't experience much discomfort taking snaps. During middle school, he often played quarterback. Plus, Moon took snaps when Union Grove employed the Wildcat formation as a change of pace against opponents during the regular season.
"It's running the same offense just from a different position," Moon said.
Collins said Moon's poise and maturity bely his youth, which made the decision to switch Moon to quarterback in the wake of Moore's injury easier.
"He's only a sophomore, but he carries himself a little higher than that," Collins said.
Despite the abrupt changes, Union Grove still spread the ball around to its inventory of weapons. Senior running back Donovan Johnson rushed for 106 yards on 14 carries and two touchdowns. Wide receiver Jordan Akins caught all three of Moon's passes, including one for a touchdown, and Ed Wilkins also caught a touchdown pass.
That Monday before the playoffs could have consumed Union Grove in turmoil, but Moon said it only made the Wolverines more resolute.
"We just buckled down and said, 'Time for everybody to step up,'" Moon said. "Some people had to get switched to other positions and play more than one position. But everybody stepped up pretty well."
Considering the Wolverines' 24-7 loss to Northside in the first round of the playoffs last season, Union Grove embraces the rematch as an opportunity to show it can compete against one of the state's elite prep programs.
Even without its starting quarterback.
"This year we've got a good senior group that played against (Northside)," Collins said. "They want to go down there and again show that they can compete and hopefully have a chance to win. If we go out there with the right mindset, we can.
"Stranger things have happened."