Jeff Hurndon Photography
Union Grove wide receiver Stefon Sampson (carrying the ball) tries to avoid Mundy’s Mill defensive back Mark Hawkins, Jr. (No. 7) during the second half of the teams’ subregion game on Friday.
McDONOUGH — Mundy’s Mill came to Wolverine Stadium wanting to prove that its last three wins weren’t flukes — that they were ready to be included with the big dogs.
And for the first quarter, it looked promising. But two Luke Parker touchdowns and a 56-yard bomb from Jonathan Slade to Caleb Ham at the end of the first half helped Union Grove to a three-touchdown lead. The Wolverines would cruise to a 35-13 win behind Derrick Craine’s 165 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries.
Craine, a senior, said he was inspired to play hard on the Wolverines’ Senior Night because of what happened to Union Grove last Senior Night.
“We had that heartbreaker last year, when Jones County beat us on a last-second field goal,” Craine said. “As a junior, I saw what that did to that senior class, and I wanted to make sure that didn’t happen to us this year.”
The game that was to be a battle of two of the Southern Crescent’s leading rushers lived up to the billing for the first quarter as Union Grove’s first drive was three-play, 68-yard, all-Craine drive. He burst through Mundy’s Mill’s defense out of a bunch formation for a 13-yard touchdown run that was set up a 47-yard scamper the play before.
It was Mundy’s Mill standout Rodney Smith’s turn. The junior, who had averaged 270 yards in the previous three games, powered the Tigers down the field on a methodical 20-play, 75 yard drive — all runs — that killed the rest of the first quarter and the first three minutes of the second.
Union Grove’s ensuing drive is when it all began to unravel for the Tigers. The initial blow came with the first of Parker’s two touchdowns — a 37-yard screen pass from Slade on a second-and-17 play.
Parker was in the right place at the right time on his second score, as Mundy’s Mill quarterback Rodricous Gates couldn’t reach a high shotgun snap. Gates whiffed on an attempt to kick the ball out of bounds, and Parker snagged it for a 24-yard scoop-and-score to put the Wolverines up 21-7 with 1:47 left in the half.
After Smith rushed for 75 yards on Mundy’s Mill’s second drive, he gained just seven for the rest of the half and finished with 119 yards on 21 carries. He also completed a pass on a flea flicker that went for 32 yards.
Credit Union Grove for making the adjustments.
“Coach (Jeremy) Ross and those guys on defense are just doing an outstanding job getting guys ready to play and respond,” Union Grove coach Paul Burgdorf said. “We just kept preaching all week, hats around the ball. Get two or three guys around Rodney Smith. We don’t have a lot of superstars on this team, but we love each other and love playing together.”
But it was chiefly the Tigers’ inability to get out of their own way that kept them from building early momentum — something Mundy’s Mill coach Greg Manior recognized was happening.
“We just made too many mistakes,” Manior said. “Union Grove is a good team, they kept the pedal to us, but we had our quarterback throw three interceptions, snap over the head. We just weren’t blocking well and it forced us to pass a lot, which is not what we do best.”
The loss snapped the Tigers’ three-game winning streak and dropped them to 3-5 overall and 3-1 in Region 4-AAAAA, Division A. Meanwhile, Union Grove won its fifth straight, after being shut out 39-0 at home against Whitewater.
“We didn’t want that Whitewater game to define us,” Burgdorf said. “Our goal is to be in the state playoffs. That’s what we’re working toward.”
At 7-1 overall and 4-0 in the region — and with next week’s matchup against Drew, where a win would solidify their first-place stance — the Wolverines may be the best team in the Southern Crescent that nobody seems to be talking about.
Which is just fine with Burgdorf.
“We don’t mind being quiet,” he said. “I think that’s the personality of this team.”