Allowing 29.3 points per game over the first three weeks, the Union football defense came together Friday night to shut out visiting Pacific in Four Rivers Conference action, 40-0.
Through three weeks of the season, Union (2-2, 1-1) had been prolific on offense, averaging 32 points per game. But Union needed all of that to outpace what other teams were doing against their defense.
That changed against Pacific (1-3, 0-2). While the Indians were able to move the ball against Union, the Wildcats did not surrender a score.
“That’s huge for our defense to put that together,” Webster said. “Historically, we’ve struggled with mobile quarterbacks and guys running around like that. They did an outstanding job. I know that’s their second quarterback (Lucas Zurliene), but he’s a good athlete. I’m very proud of our defense. They did a fantastic job. Our defensive coaches did a great job. After what we have done, they did a good job of turning themselves around. Hopefully we can use this momentum to propel ourselves to have a good year on defense.”
Pacific Head Coach George Hinkle gave credit to the Wildcats.
“They have a good team,” Hinkle said. “They’re playing good. They’re in sync. We just didn’t execute what we had called. We had some good plays called and prepared for them, but the bottom line is that it comes down to execution regardless to whatever side of the ball you’re on. We’ve just got to execute better.”
Three times, Pacific threatened the Union end zone. The first chance ended with Union’s TreLin Edwards picking off a pass at the Union 5.
“They tipped it and got an interception in the red zone,” Hinkle said. “That hurt, but when we get an opportunity, we’ve got to catch the ball. We had a chance to do something and have the score at 7-7 early and we didn’t take advantage of that opportunity.”
Pacific reached the Union two-yard line on its next chance of the first half, but the Wildcats held firm, took advantage of a penalty and survived a failed 25-yard field goal attempt.
Pacific got as close as the Union nine in the second half, but the Wildcats held firm once again and kept the Indians off the scoreboard.
“We stopped ourselves,” Hinkle said. “Any time you drop the ball, you stop yourself, especially when the ball hits the receivers in the hands.”
For Webster, seeing the defense execute was worth the wait. Linebackers filled in holes and Union was able to exert pressure on Zurliene all night long.
“The linebackers did an outstanding job pursuing and running all of the time,” Webster said. “They were tenacious. They got after the ball. There were gang tackles all over the place. There were guys always around the ball, which is what you’re looking for.”
Union also stepped up on special teams. Logan Bellamy returned a punt 53 yards for Union’s first special teams touchdown of the season.
Offensively, the Wildcats stayed close to form. Union scored 34 of its points on offense, just above its season average.
Blake Hulsey threw for three touchdowns and ran for one with Bellamy catching two of those passes to go with his punt return.
“He’s a little waterbug,” Webster said. “It’s fun to watch him change field. He’s only a junior. I don’t know what he’s going to look like as a senior. He’s a real talent.”
Jobie Richardson returned from missing the Sullivan game following nose surgery to score a touchdown and Lukis Ladymon also got into the act with a rushing score in the fourth quarter.
Defensively, Union limited Pacific to 145 total yards in the game. The Indians passed for 74 and ran for 71 yards.
Union gained 551 total yards in the game with 409 through the air and 142 on the ground.
Hulsey again posted huge numbers for Union. He completed 29 of 42 attempts for 409 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. On the ground, he carried the ball 16 times for 111 yards and one touchdown.
Hulsey took advantage of Union’s offensive line, which gave him plenty of time to either check off his receivers or eventually scramble for yardage.
“It’s a blessing and a curse because he’s really good when he runs around,” Webster said. “We always set a target that he’ll carry the ball 10 times. Last week he had to run a few more than 10. It was good to see us stay to our plan and keep him healthy. I do like to see him run though. He’s a great athlete.”
Union’s other runners were Jacob Carman (3 carries for 14 yards), John Prosser (5-9), Ladymon (2-5), Ethan Hughes (1-2) and Bellamy (3-1).
Nine different Union players caught passes. Carman led the way with seven catches for 99 yards. Bellamy also had seven catches for 85 yards.
Richardson pulled in four catches for 95 yards.
“He’s our big receiver,” Webster said. “If we need to throw the ball to somebody who is going to get popped and still catch the ball, he’s the guy. He seems to climb a ladder every time the ball comes to him and he goes up and gets it.”
Edwards had four catches for 63 yards. Other receivers were Nick Eads (2-22), Nick Maher (2-19), Jake Siddens (1-16) and Prosser and Tyler Pace (each 1-5).
“Part of being in our system is that we want to get the ball to a lot of different guys,” Webster said. “The difference in having a guy like Hulsey is that we can get the ball to different guys anywhere on the field because he can put it anywhere on the field, and on a line, too.”
Defensively, Maher led the way with nine total tackles. Carman and Derric Purnell each had five tackles. Logan Meyer checked in with four.
Siddens, Meyer and Maher recorded sacks. Casey Peth had three tackles for loss while Joe Lasky posted two and Carman, Bellamy and Meyer had one apiece.
For Pacific, Lucas Zurliene led the way. He was the top rusher with 19 carries for 59 yards. Through the air, he completed six of 18 attempts for 71 yards and one interception.
“He’s a young man who is very talented,” Hinkle said. “He’s a really talented baseball player and just a good athlete all around. We knew he could do it, but he just needs time to develop.”
Tanner Brown was Pacific’s other runner with two carries for four yards. He also caught one pass for five yards.
Chris Klenke caught two passes for 38 yards. Josh Vondriska hauled in two passes for 25 yards. Lane Smith had one catch for three yards.
Jeff Hinkle led the Indians in tackles with 12 total stops. Shane Henderson, Dalton Voyles and Dustin Cowsert each posted nine. Devon Moultrie posted eight while Josh Vondriska ended with seven.
Danny Nickelson recorded an interception. Dustin Cowsert and Logan Wells posted sacks.
Union-St. Clair Preview
The Wildcats face a crucial conference and district game Friday night in St. Clair (2-2, 1-1). It will be St. Clair’s fourth home game so far this season.
The Bulldogs are looking to rebound from a 51-25 home loss to Sullivan last Friday.
“St. Clair’s a lot like Sullivan,” Webster said. “They’ve lost a lot of guys from last year but it’s St. Clair. They’re going to have athletes and they’re going to have dangerous guys. It’s something we’ve circled on our calendars. We’ve had some great games against St. Clair over the years. We love playing them and it’s always a good environment when we play them.”
Sullivan and Pacific are the only common opponents so far this season. Both teams have beaten Pacific and lost to Sullivan.
The key to stopping St. Clair is trying to hold up running back Skyler Hutchison, but nobody has been able to do that so far.
Through four games, he has carried the ball 100 times for 759 yards. Since the first week, he has not run for less than 194 yards in a game. Hutchison has 58 percent of the carries so far this season for the Bulldogs.
Quarterback Collin Scott also has a 139-yard game this season on the ground. He has 40 carries for 182 yards.
Through the air, Scott has completed 36 of 78 attempts for 420 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions.
Alex Miller (11 receptions for 131 yards), Kevin Cox (8-119) and Ian McQueen (7-65) have been the top receivers so far for the Bulldogs.
Defensively, Harley Love is the top tackler this season. Dalton Ulrich made nine stops against Sullivan.
Jake Oermann has been a force at the line, making four tackles for loss with one sack.
MasseyRatings.com has projected St. Clair to win the game, 40-13.
If there’s a positive for the Pacific Indians as they head home to host Sullivan Friday night, it’s that no standing Missourian Area Poll top-ranked team has won a game so far this season.
Sullivan climbed four spots to the top of the poll following its 51-25 win at St. Clair Friday night.
After suffering two losses to start the season, the defending FRC and district champions have found their stride in wins over Union and St. Clair.
“We will just have to do what we can do,” Hinkle said. “We’ll have to line up and play strong defense and attack. We’ve got to go downhill.”
Quarterback Justin Biermann has been unstoppable in the past two games and now has 549 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns on the season.
Biermann is a triple threat as he also has 549 return yards and has an interception return for a touchdown. He has four interceptions so far this season.
Joey Rigdon also has been a key for the Eagles and he has 37 carries for 278 yards and three scores so far.
Caden Weigl, Michael McDermott and Zach Holtz are other threats to carry the ball.
The Eagles have only picked up 24 yards through the air this season, so it’s likely not going to be hard to figure out what they’re going to do offensively.
Weigl leads the team defensively with 55 total tackles, two sacks and two fumble recoveries.
James Sappington is next with 46 total stops and one sack.
Danny Olaez leads the team with three sacks. Jeremy Stumpe has two.
If all else fails, the Eagles have a special teams ace in kicker Jake Lochner. He’s hit a 43-yard field goal already this season.
“They’re strong,” Hinkle said. “They’re building every time they go.”
MasseyRatings.com has picked Sullivan to beat the Indians, 44-6.
UNI - Logan Bellamy 4 pass from Blake Hulsey (Tyler Brown kick), 7:24
UNI - Jobie Richardson 50 pass from Hulsey (kick blocked), 2:06
UNI - Bellamy 28 pass from Hulsey (Bellamy pass from Hulsey), 4:26
UNI -Bellamy 53 punt return (kick failed), 3:10
UNI - Hulsey 1 run (pass failed), 10:09
UNI - Lukis Ladymon 2 run (Brown kick), 6:36