UNION — After watching the renovation project at Stierberger Stadium all summer long, the Union Wildcats finally got to play on the new turf field.
However, with a 31-14 loss to Poplar Bluff Friday night, that first win will have to wait for another day.
Poplar Bluff (1-0) knocked off Union (0-1) in the season opener for the second consecutive year.
Union’s offensive highlights came in the third quarter on a pair of touchdowns by junior quarterback Blake Hulsey. Hulsey also scored a two-point conversion.
The Mules were able to exploit Union’s weaknesses both on the ground and through the air. And Union didn’t help itself either with penalties and turnovers at inopportune times.
After both teams struggled early, Poplar Bluff struck first. Sophomore quarterback Kameron Misner spotted fellow sophomore Tristen Francisco open on the left side and hit him for what turned into an 84-yard touchdown. Collin Jones kicked the extra point and Poplar Bluff led 7-0.
After another Union punt to midfield, the Mules drove down the field to score on a one-yard run by Misner as he followed the pile into the end zone with 2:51 to play in the first quarter. Jones kicked the extra point and the first quarter ended with Poplar Bluff holding a 14-0 lead.
After another Union punt and penalty at the end of the play, the Mules went for glory on a pass play, but junior Logan Bellamy picked off Misner’s pass in the end zone.
That started Union’s longest drive of the half, but Union hurt itself multiple times in Poplar Bluff territory. A holding penalty set Union back far enough that a pass interference call gave Union third and less than a yard. However, the Wildcats moved and were penalized. On the next play, Hulsey fumbled the ball away.
Bi Nguyen, who did everything but score on the ground in the first half, rambled 68 yards down inside the Union 10. There, Jake Pulliam finished off the drive on a one-yard run with 7:08 to play in the half. Jones kicked the extra point and it was 21-0. That’s how the half ended.
Union received the kickoff to start the second half and drove right down the field. Hulsey scored on a three-yard run with 9:15 to play in the third quarter. Ryan Schumaker booted the extra point, but another Union penalty forced the play to be repeated. This time, the kick was no good.
Poplar Bluff struck back quickly and Nguyen was rewarded by getting into the end zone on a one-yard run with 5:54 to play in the third quarter. Jones kicked the extra point to make it 28-6.
The Wildcats marched down the field again. The big play was a 50-yard pass from Hulsey to Bellamy, which set up Hulsey’s two-yard run with 1:56 left in the third quarter. Hulsey shrugged off the tackle attempt of Nick Joachim in the backfield before reaching the red turf of the end zone. Hulsey also ran for the two-point conversion to cut the Poplar Bluff lead to 28-14.
Poplar Bluff scored the final points of the game as Jones drilled a 28-yard field goal from the left hash with 9:06 to play. The contest bogged down after that.
Union stays at home next week, hosting the Borgia Knights (1-0) at Stierberger Stadium. Borgia defeated Owensville Friday, 26-6.
PB - Tristen Francisco 84 pass from Kameron Misner (Collin Jones kick), 7:42 Poplar Bluff 7, Union 0
PB - Misner 1 run (Jones kick), 2:51 Poplar Bluff 14, Union 0
PB - Jake Pulliam 1 run (Jones kick), 7:08
UNI - Blake Hulsey 3 run (kick failed), 9:15
PB - Bi Nguyen 1 run (Jones kick), 5:54
UNI - Hulsey 2 run (Hulsey run) 1:56
PB - Jones 28 field goal, 9:06