Everyone knew it would just be a matter of time before Sullivan senior Justin Biermann had his breakout game this season.
Fortunately for the Eagles, Biermann dominated Friday night’s Four Rivers Conference opener against the Union Wildcats in a 36-22 victory.
“It was definitely a relief to get that first win,” said Sullivan Head Coach Andy Arnette. “It was an emotional one for me. The boys really played their hearts out and left it all out on the field.”
Union Head Coach Erick Webster said his team was slow to start.
“I knew we might have an issue if it ended up in a shootout,” Webster said. “I think we have a little more firepower than they do, but we didn’t show it until the second half.”
Sullivan (1-2, 1-0) got 220 rushing yards from Biermann on 23 attempts.
Biermann also intercepted three Union passes and returned one of them for a touchdown in the final minute of the game to secure the win.
Last year’s Missourian All-Area offensive and special teams player of the year, Biermann has been playing quarterback for Arnette’s team this season. In losses to Park Hills Central and Festus, Biermann was limited in what he could do. Facing the Wildcats proved to be the tonic Sullivan needed to get into the win column this season.
“It was a great win for our team,” Arnette said. “It was a huge win in the conference and a big win after two losses to tough opponents.”
Sullivan had to sweat as well. After building up a 29-7 lead into the fourth quarter, the Eagles had to withstand a late Union (1-2, 0-1) onslaught which nearly yielded victory for the Wildcats.
“We actually had two or three chances to win it,” said Webster. “We scored on the drive before the final turnover. Logan Bellamy ran for a 19-yard touchdown, but it was called back on a penalty. That gave us first and 20 and we ended up turning the ball over on downs.”
The Eagles ran for 426 yards on 51 carries against Union. While Sullivan was just 1-3 for six yards and one interception, it didn’t need to put the ball into the air.
“Our coaches and players did a great job preparing last week,” Arnette said. “The boys went out and executed the game plan. Our run game was very successful on Friday, and Justin led the way. Our line and other running backs did a great job blocking. It was a total team effort.”
Besides Biermann’s 9.6 yards per rush, Sullivan also got 74 yards on nine carries from Caden Weigl, 70 yards on 10 carries from Michael McDermott, 41 yards on seven carries from Joey Rigdon and 21 carries on two carries from Zach Holtz.
“We just didn’t fill defensively in the first half,” Webster said. “We had to reboot on the defensive side. Once we did that, we were fine.”
Biermann’s pass completion was to Andrew Hines for six yards.
Jake Lochner hit a 43-yard field goal for the Eagles in the game.
“I’m not 100 percent sure, but I think Justin’s three interceptions may be a school record,” Arnette said. “I believe that Jake Lochner’s 43-yard field goal may be a record as well.”
While Sullivan was able to find a weak spot in Union’s run defense, the Wildcats were able to exploit Sullivan’s pass coverage much of the evening.
“Our offense gained 550 yards,” Webster said. “The team that does that probably is not going to lose.”
Blake Hulsey completed 37 of 57 pass attempts for 342 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.
“Blake had completed 60 percent of his passes going into that final drive,” Webster said. “He thought he was invincible. He ran for 131 yards and threw 57 passes. I don’t remember seeing a quarterback attempt 57 passes in a game.”
Jake Siddens was Hulsey’s favorite target and he hauled in 14 catches for 114 yards.
Jacob Carman had six catches for 87 yards and one touchdown. Nick Eads made six catches for 75 yards and Logan Bellamy caught six passes for 27 yards.
“Nick Eads did a remarkable job stepping up for Jobie Richardson,” Webster said. “Jobie just had surgery and possibly could have played. It’s good to know we have that depth.”
John Prosser caught two passes for 17 yards and Tyler Pace caught two passes for 14 yards. Logan Meyer had one catch for eight yards.
Hulsey also paced Union’s rushing offense, which carried for 206 yards on 39 carries. Hulsey kept the ball 23 times for 131 yards and two touchdowns in the game.
“Union is definitely one of the favorites in the FRC this year,” Arnette said. “They have an outstanding quarterback who made a lot of plays on Friday night. They never gave up. They are in store for a successful season. Coach Webster does a great job with those boys.”
Bellamy was next with five carries for 36 yards. Prosser had eight rushes for 32 yards. Nick Maher carried the ball twice for eight yards and Pace had one rush for -1 yard.
Defensively, Union was paced by Ryan Schumaker and Casey Peth, who each recorded 13 total tackles.
Maher was next with 12 total tackles. Joe Laskey and Siddens each made seven total stops. Bellamy, Meyer and Prosser had six total tackles.
TreLin Edwards had Union’s only sack while Bellamy intercepted a pass.
Schumaker kicked two extra points while Hulsey ran for a two-point conversion.
The Eagles face another key FRC game this Friday when they visit St. Clair (2-1, 1-0) at 7 p.m.
“We have another tough conference game this week against St. Clair,” Arnette said. “Hopefully we can keep things rolling.”
Union will host Pacific (1-2, 0-1) as both teams try to record their first FRC win of the season.
“If we can play our game and take care of business, we should be fine,” Webster said. “It will be tough to win if we start off slow again.”
The Bulldogs have found their stride with wins over De Soto and Pacific following a season-opening loss to Washington.
Pacific won their opener over De Soto, but then fell to both Potosi and St. Clair.
The player to watch for St. Clair is senior running back-linebacker Skyler Hutchison. He gained 298 rushing yards and scored four touchdowns in the win over Pacific Friday night.
Games between Sullivan and St. Clair frequently have come down to the last play in recent years. The teams also played each other for the district championship last season.
For Pacific, the Indians have turned Lucas Zurliene at quarterback after losing Eain Roberts for the season during the Potosi game.
Linebackers Dalton Voyles and Jeff Hinkle are players to watch on defense for the Indians.
The game will be something of a homecoming for Pacific Head Coach George Hinkle, who spent time at Union as an assistant coach under Brent Eckley.
SUL - Justin Biermann 40 run (Jake Lochner kick), 10:51
SUL - Zach Holtz 22 run (kick blocked), 9:36
UNI - Blake Hulsey 18 run (Ryan Schumaker kick), 2:31
SUL - Biermann 20 run (Lochner kick), 1:54
SUL - Biermann 8 run (kick blocked), 2:56
SUL - Lochner 43 kick, 11:55
UNI - Hulsey 1 run (Schumaker kick), 9:15
UNI - Jacob Carman 19 pass from Hulsey (Hulsey run), 6:45
SUL - Biermann 80 interception return, (Lochner kick), 1:04