It would be easy to understand the sense of urgency on both sidelines in the Red Rose City on Friday night. Union County and Lancaster squared off in a Region 3-3A battle that will likely decide second place in the region, and the contest was every bit the classic one might expect.
The homestanding Bruins turned a 16-0 halftime deficit into five second-half scores, bouncing back to defeat Union County 33-22 at Lancaster Memorial Stadium.
The second-half performance left many wondering what Bruin coach Bobby Collins told his team at halftime.
“The only thing I told the guys to do was to do what you were coached to do,” said Collins. “I told them just to finish the game, do what you were coached to do and stick to the game plan.”
The first Lancaster drive prematurely ended when Doug Brannon stepped in front of a Darius Robinson pass in the flat, taking it 46 yards to the house and giving the Yellow Jackets a 7-0 lead. Union County extended that lead to 10-0 on a 20-yard Blake Johnson field goal as the first quarter neared its close.
Shi Smith punched in a yard run to make the Union County margin 16-0 with just seconds to play in the first half. From that point, the Homecoming crowd at Lancaster saw a completely different game.
Lancaster receiver Cordarius Tinsley battled injury all evening, but provided a spark for the Bruins. Darius Robinson found Tinsley from 30 yards, giving Lancaster their first score of the evening and slicing the Union County lead to 22-7. The Lancaster defense also clamped down on the Yellow Jackets, stifling De’arrius Smith and the visitors’ powerful offense.
After Lancaster scored again to kick off the fourth quarter, De’arrius Smith found pay dirt on a four-yard run, extending the lead back to eight. The extra point was no good, though, keeping it a one-possession contest.
Lancaster then scored 19 consecutive points in the final 9:02, capping a comeback Collins said defined his program.
“We’re excited. This was a quality win. I challenge our guys to do one thing every year: never lose at home in this stadium. That’s part of our goal, (to) take pride in winning at home, winning the big games in this stadium. I’m excited for those guys.”
Lancaster’s comeback appeared to have hit a snag when their tying two-point attempt was no good, leaving the Bruins trailing with just over four minutes to play. After forcing a Union County punt, the Yellow Jackets were unable to cleanly handle the snap, leading to a Lancaster recovery and a drive that started on Union County’s 31-yard line. The Bruins drove those 31 yards in 1:17, capped by an 18-yard Ant Foster run.
Union County converted on two of their three offensive possessions in the first half, getting Smith’s one-yard scamper and the Johnson field goal to go with the pick-six. Lancaster did the Yellow Jackets one better in the second half.
Lancaster had just four offensive possessions in the second half, but found the end zone on each of those possessions. The Bruins also forced a fumble on a sack of Smith on the game’s final play, resulting in a Tyree Brown-Washington return for a touchdown.
Foster took over for Lancaster in the second half. After a first half in which he gained just 20 yards on 11 carries, thanks to a swarming Yellow Jacket defense, he finished with 25 carries and 90 yards, including two touchdown runs on which he refused to be stopped. Foster even appeared on defense on the final possession, adding pressure as Union County attempted to drive to win the game.
“He never stops his feet. He goes hard like that every day in practice. He fights through adversity, and I’m just really, really excited (for him),” said Collins of Foster.
Robinson completed 10-of-18 throws for the Bruins for 196 yards and two scores. Receivers Taron Heath and Tinsley combined for six of those grabs and 141 yards, netting both touchdowns.
Shi Smith turned in a great effort for the Yellow Jackets, catching four passes for 64 yards and carrying three times for 18. Smith also added a touchdown. De’arrius Smith had a rushing score of his own, while throwing for 123 yards. Union County running back Ty Thomas carried 14 times for 76 yards.
Collins spoke after the game of the significance of this win. “I’m excited for the town. This is what we needed in this town, to get some spark back,” said Collins.
UC - Doug Brannon 47 interception return (Blake Johnson kick) 10:15
UC – Johnson 20 field goal :33
UC – Shi Smith 1 run (kick blocked) :22.2
L – Darius Robinson 30 pass to Cordarius Tinsley (Trevor Lathan kick) 7:45
L – Robinson 22 pass to Taron Heath (Latham kick) 11:53
UC – De’arrius Smith 4 run (kick failed) 9:02
L – Ant Foster 2 run (conversion failed) 4:09
L – Ant Foster 18 run (Latham kick) 1:08
L – Tyree Brown-Washington 60 fumble return (no attempt) 0:00
RUSHING: Union County: Ty Thomas 14-76; De’arrius Smith 11-2; Brandon Thompson 1-5; Shi Smith 3-18. Lancaster: Ant Foster 25-90; Darius Robinson 3-(minus) 4; Farrika Grier 5-11.
PASSING: Union County: De’arrius Smith 12-21-0-123 yards. Lancaster: Darius Robinson 10-18-1-196 yards.
RECEIVING: Union County: Roscoe Johnson 1-8; Shi Smith 4-64; Ty Thomas 2-14; Noah Voiselle 1-10; Montay Feaster 1-13; Doug Brannon 2-12; Demarcus Brown 2-12. Lancaster: Taron Heath 4-70; Desmond Stowers 2-30; Cordarius Tinsley 2-71; James Killian 2-25.
RECORDS: Union County 3-6 (2-2 Region 3-3A); Lancaster 8-1 (3-1).
Union County visits Chester to close the regular season next Friday; Lancaster hosts Broome.