It took three overtime sessions, but the Priory Rebels were able to outlast the Union football Wildcats to open Class 4 District 3 competition Thursday night at Stierberger Stadium, 49-42.
While Priory (6-4) advances to face Ladue (9-1) in next Wednesday’s district semifinals and Union (7-3) ended its season, there was much more to the contest than just that.
Just to get to overtime required the Wildcats to score two touchdowns in the final six minutes. And the Wildcats had to drive 98 yards for the first one.
“Our kids did a great job,” Union Head Coach Erick Webster said. “For a while, the stadium seemed flat and our team seemed flat. We told them we weren’t out of this and there still was a lot of fight left. They continued to battle. I’m so proud of them. I can’t imagine them fighting harder. It was heartbreaking to lose the way we did, but I can’t imagine a team fighting any harder.”
The finish was the complete opposite of last year’s district first-round game, an 8-0 Priory victory.
With just under six minutes to play in regulation, Priory had every reason to feel comfortable. Leading 35-21, the Rebels pinned Union to its own two-yard line, forcing the Wildcats to not only have to drive 98 yards to score, but also to get the ball back and score again.
Union took care of the first part, quickly moving down the field by using passes with a run sprinkled in here or there.
However, the Rebels held there. On third down, Priory got a sack at the Union 20.
Struggling on fourth down all night long, this time junior quarterback Blake Hulsey found John Prosser in the end zone for a 20-yard touchdown pass with 2:37 to play. Ryan Schumaker’s kick made it 35-28.
Union went for the onside kick, but Cole Esparrago was able to come out of the scrum with the ball.
Priory did all it could to run time off the clock, but couldn’t find any holes in the Union defense. With 1:28 left in regulation, Logan Bellamy made a fair catch of a Priory punt at the Union 29.
Hulsey went back to work. On first down, he hit Jacob Carman for 17 yards. On the next play, he found Jake Siddens for a gain to the Priory 46.
Another pass to Carman put the ball on the Priory 21. And on the next play, Hulsey bulled his way down to the Priory one. Only a number of Rebels denied him the end zone.
However, Union struggled from there, setting up fourth down at the one. Hulsey found a hole and scrambled through for a touchdown with seven ticks left on the clock. Schumaker’s kick tied the score at 42-42.
Schumaker had a huge game for the Wildcats as well. He blocked two Priory punts in the game and stopped another sure touchdown by stripping the ball away from Priory’s Dan Watson after a long run.
“I’m so proud of him,” Webster said. “That’s something we practice in our turnover circuit. I’m proud that a kid took something he learned on the practice field, used it in a game and it made a difference. Nick had a great night. He’s a lights-out player. He’s probably one of the fastest players in the conference and we’ll see that in the track season. He’s got a bright future.”
On the night, he hit all six of his extra-point kicks.
Schumaker almost had the chance to be the hero in the first overtime. Union started by holding Priory on the first possession from the 25-yard line.
Union was bogged down at the Priory 10 and Webster considered sending in his kicker to try and win it. The attempt would have been from at least 27 yards, which wasn’t a sure thing. Webster stuck with Hulsey, but his pass into the end zone was incomplete.
“We did consider going for the field goal,” Webster said. “With the angle and the length of the kick, we felt we had to go with our hot hand, and Blake Hulsey was our hot hand at that point. It seemed to be out of our kicking range, but not out of Blake’s throwing range.”
Scoring in Overtime
In the second overtime, Union took the lead for the first time since the first quarter.
Union quickly moved to the Priory 11, but seemed to be stuck around there.
Facing third down from the 13, Hulsey tried to hit Jobie Richardson, but the ball fell incomplete. However, there was contact before the pass arrived and pass interference was called.
The penalty still wasn’t enough for a first down, but Union got a run by John Prosser to earn four more downs.
On third and goal from the one, Hulsey broke through to give Union the lead. Schumaker’s kick made it 42-35.
Priory immediately struck back and Alex Lennartz scored on a two-yard run. Esparrago’s kick tied it again, 42-42.
Priory didn’t take long to score on its possession in the third overtime. Quarterback Andrew Rund ran to the Union one and Lennartz scored his third touchdown of the night on the next play. Esparrago’s kick made it 49-42.
Union had another chance. However, the Wildcats fumbled the ball on an extra effort and it was ruled that Priory recovered to win the game and advance in the playoffs.
When the Rebels rushed onto the field and celebrated the victory, it seemed like eons after the game had started with a rapid first quarter.
Union scored the first touchdown on a one-yard run by Hulsey with 1:26 left in the first quarter. Schumaker’s kick made it 7-0.
The Rebels didn’t need much time to strike back. Watson scored on a nine-yard run with 11:22 left in the half and Esparrago kicked the extra point to tie it.
That score keyed a Priory run, which seemed to be just the rally the Rebels needed to secure a big lead.
Priory got a 28-yard pass from Rund to Jack Heitz with 9:58 to play. That score was set up by a big punt return by John Agnew to the Union 18. Priory overcame a penalty which wiped out one touchdown.
After Union was stopped short on fourth down at the Priory 31, it took one play for Watson to add another touchdown to Priory’s lead. Watson swept left and then cut back to the middle for a 69-yard touchdown with 5:39 left. Esparrago’s kick made it 21-7.
Union got one touchdown back just before the half. Union had been thwarted near the red zone, but Schumaker blocked a kick and Union had another chance. This time, Hulsey scored from five yards out with 36.4 seconds left in the half. Schumaker’s kick made it 21-14, which was the halftime score.
The Rebels drove down and scored on their opening drive of the third quarter. Gussie Busch went into the end zone from two yards out with 10:20 left in the quarter. Esparrago’s kick made it 28-14 in favor of the Rebels.
Union struck back with Hulsey scoring from one yard out after some big runs by Prosser to set up the score. Hulsey’s touchdown and Schumaker’s kick with 8:13 left in the third quarter cut the Priory lead to 28-21.
While the teams were trading stops, Schumaker made his key fumble recovery late in the third quarter. However, Union was forced to punt after failing to move the ball on its chance.
Priory took its two-score lead again early in the fourth quarter. Lennartz scored on a one-yard run with 10:54 left in the game. The Esparrago kick made it 35-21.
When Priory’s punt was downed at the Union two with 5:59 to play, the game seemed to be over.
But Union believed and rallied for two scores to send it into overtime.
UNI - Blake Hulsey 1 run (Ryan Schumaker kick), 1:26
PRI - Dan Watson 9 run (Cole Esparrago kick), 11:22
PRI - Jack Heitz 28 pass from Andrew Rund (Esparrago kick), 9:58
PRI - Watson 69 run (Esparrago kick), 5:39
UNI - Hulsey 5 run (Schumaker kick), 0:36.4
PRI - Gussie Busch 2 run (Esparrago kick), 10:20
UNI - Hulsey 1 run (Schumaker kick), 8:13
PRI - Alex Lennartz 1 run (Esparrago kick), 10:54
UNI - John Prosser 20 pass from Hulsey (Schumaker kick), 2:37
UNI - Hulsey 1 run (Schumaker kick), 0:07
UNI - Hulsey 1 run (Schumaker kick)
PRI - Lennartz 6 run (Esparrago kick)
PRI - Lennartz 1 run (Esparrago kick)