Union County came to Hilliard ready to play, scoring first when Isaiah Johnson rushed for 40 yards. The Flashes responded with two minutes left in the first quarter as Austin Turner ran the ball in to put the score at 7-6.
But with under a minute left in the quarter, UC’s Caleb Cox ran for 10 yards followed by a solid kick for the Tigers to go up 14-6.
UC started the second quarter with another Johnson touchdown and a conversion and added another touchdown with five minutes left in the half.
With about three minutes left, Bryce Jenkins completed a 17-yard pass to Josh Taylor for a Flashes touchdown, putting the score at 29-12 for halftime.
As the Flashes exited the field, Coach Doug Allison told the boys, “It’s only 17 points.”
During the break, the coaches used choice words to reinvigorate the team.
“First we told them to forget the scoreboard and just play one down at a time,” Allison said. “The kids have a lot of heart and had done some things well. The major concerns were effort in our fundamentals. We needed to tackle better and be more aggressive. Union is very good. They have very strong running backs and a very solid defensive line. I challenged our offensive line to get lower and sustain blocks. I challenged our linebackers to attack quicker.”
Entering the second half, UC immediately scored on a 20-yard pass to go up 35-12. Six minutes later they would score for the last time before a Flashes rally, up 42-12.
That’s when the Flashes took control of their home field. With two minutes left in the third quarter, Jenkins completed a 14-yard pass for a touchdown and an added conversion decreased the deficit to 22 points.
“The kids kept playing and pulling for each other,” Allison said. “Both teams subbed in their second offense and second defense for the fourth quarter and I think there was a lot of excitement for them and they energized everyone.”
Also invigorating the Flashes was the crowd. A large student section brought “The Storm” alive in the stands.
“The players were feeding off that energy,” Allison said. “There is no doubt that support like that makes a huge difference for everyone. It creates a synergy that can be felt in the team, the students, the teachers and the community.”
The game continued on scoreless until Gunner Chaires rushed 9 yards for a touchdown with about six minutes left in the game. Only 16 points down, the Flashes recovered a fumble and scored as William Wiggs rushed 31 yards. Chaires entered the end zone for the additional points, moving the score to 42-34.
With about a minute left, the Flashes tied the game as Chaires passed to Brayden Carroll for a touchdown before passing to Chris O’Donnel for the extra 2 points.
“I was very excited for the boys,” Allison said when asked what his thought process was at that moment. “And I was just enjoying the crowd and having fun. My next thought was the kick off and what strategy to use. We saw that Union had some very talented boys come out for the return so I decided not to kick deep. Before the game the plan was to not have live special teams, but we decided that would be a good challenge and allow more of our players to receive more game experience.”
Adrenaline running high and under a minute left on the clock, UC made quick work of the ball and Tyrus Cook completed a 20-yard pass to Seth Hendricks for the game-winning touchdown, ending the night at 48-42.
Despite the loss, the Flashes won a personal victory.
“I already felt the night fit into our definition of success: Competitive greatness, the peace of mind that comes from knowing you did your absolute best with all of your resources,” Allison said. “Union took a timeout and changed some personnel with less than 10 seconds left. At first I was tempted to change our personnel but felt the right thing to do was to leave our younger kids on the field and let them have a chance to make the stop.”
In 2013, the Flashes were blanked 42-0 by UC.
“We scored this year ... so there is evidence of growth,” Allison said. “We didn’t tackle well but I think the reasons for that are fixable. Some of it was our alignment, some was bad technique and some was Union had really tough backs.”
He added that conditioning was better, with the team running 199 plays on a hot night, when most games average 150-160 plays.
Hilliard has a bye week this week and will open regular season action Sept. 12 at Charlton County.
“This week it is fundamentals,” Allison said. “We must be better at tackling and sustaining blocks. ... And as coaches we need to plan rotations that will allow us to use players where our team has depth and keep players fresh. Next week we will practice our game plan for another great challenge. The schedule is tough and will test our physical, mental and emotional strength. We hope it will make us stronger.”