It wasn’t just the wet weather or lights going off that rained on the Union Wildcats and new Head Coach Justin Grahl in Friday night opener against the Farmington Black Knights.
Farmington prevailed at Stierberger Stadium, 23-13.
In the end it was the Black Knights’ ability to capitalize on Union mistakes, while Union was unable to take advantage of Farmington errors.
Grahl felt his team handled the weather OK, but just didn’t capitalize on its opportunities.
“We knew there was going to be some adversity all week,” said Grahl. “We knew the forecast and could see the writing on the wall. I think we did a decent job. For us, it comes down to we need to capitalize on mistakes. They put the ball on the ground a few times in the first half. We had a big fumble recovery by Nic Luechtefeld early in the game, we just couldn’t quite get the ball in.”
Farmington fumbled the ball five times in the first half with the Wildcats recovering two of them. The Wildcats were unable to produce anything out of either turnover.
Luechtefeld recovered a fumble at the Union 30 and returned it 62 yards to the Farmington eight-yard line. However, Union couldn’t make that pay off with a score. The Wildcats turned the ball back over on a fourth down fumble to the Black Knights.
With 2:31 left in the first half, Union recovered a Farmington fumble at the 41-yard line. On the very next play Derek Hulsey’s pass was intercepted by Rothman Harris and he returned it returned 59 yards for a touchdown.
Grahl knows it is early and the Wildcats need to pick themselves up and learn from this game. He was pleased with how his team never quit.
“It’s a learning experience and only half of the teams are going to win Week 1,” Grahl said. “The question now is can we grow and learn from what we did tonight and get better. We are hard-nosed, we preach mental toughness every day in practice. I am very pleased with the way we fought, we grinded, we clawed and scratched. It’s just about fine-tuning who we are, capitalize on mistakes, and get the ball rolling. Tonight was definitely a game where we capitalize early, and it could have went our way in a big way. We just have to learn how to win.”
Control of the line of scrimmage is important especially in these early games said Grahl.
“Early in the game, I thought we gained control of the line, that’s when things were going well for us,” said Grahl. “We talked about it all week and before the game. Week 1 it comes down a lot of times on who can control the line of scrimmage. We had control of it in the first half, we just lost it in the second half. We need to work on conditioning. We need to work on our pad level. These are mistakes you are going to get in Week 1. It’s about growing and getting better from here on out.”
Grahl said there was positives on both sides of the ball but all around they weren’t good enough tonight.
“There’s positives when you look at the defense and positives when you look at the offense,” said Grahl. “All around, it wasn’t good enough. It’s a team effort and you either win as a team or lose as a team. We are not going to point fingers, we are not going to bad mouth anybody we’ve just got to do a better job all around.”
Week 2 Preview
The Wildcats (0-1) stay home to host the St. Francis Borgia Regional Knights (1-0) and Grahl wants a good week of practice.
“We have Borgia next week at home and we need a good week of practice,” said Grahl. “The week of Labor Day is always tough, it’s a little bit of a different week. Right now we are looking for a spark, we need another great week we can practice before the Borgia game. We will be excited and will be improved against Borgia next week.”
Offensively the Wildcats had 116 passing and 24 rushing yards.
Hulsey was 11-21 for 116 yards and two interceptions.
Peyton Burke led all receivers with four catches for 50 yards. Donovan Rutledge had three receptions for 42 yards, Matt Bray caught two passes for 20 yards and Christophe Poinsett one catch for seven yards.
Poinsett led Union rushers with seven carries for 12 yards and also recorded a scintillating 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
Hulsey had three rushes for three yards and a touchdown.
Defensive stats were not available at deadline.
It was a scoreless first quarter that featured a goal line stand by the Wildcats at their own five-yard line.
The Wildcats also missed a golden opportunity on the Luchtefeld fumble return to the Farmington eight-yard line.
It was the Black Knights who scored first taking advantage of a pass interception by Kael Krause that was returned to the Union 37.
Krause converted on a 32-yard field goal to give the Knights a 3-0 lead 7:20 in the second quarter.
It took 15 seconds for Union to reply. That was the amount of time it took for Poinsett to run the ensuing kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. Hunter Grafrath added the extra point to give Union its only lead of the game 7-3.
Just 58 seconds later, the Black Knights retook the lead. Royce Harris raced 57 yards for the touchdown and Krause added the extra point at 6:07 in the second quarter.
After recovering a Farmington fumble at their own 41-yard line the Wildcats looked for a score to go up prior to halftime. On the very next play Hulsey was intercepted by Rothman Harris, who returned it 59 yards for the touchdown. At that point, was then that the lights went off for the first time. When play resumed, Krause added the extra point to make it 16-7 for the Black Knights at the half.
In the third quarter the Black Knights took control moving the ball 69 yards capped off by a one-yard run by quarterback Kaden Files. Krause added the extra point to give the Knights a 23-7 lead after three quarters.
The Wildcats never quit, driving 61 yards scoring on a 10-yard run by Hulsey. The drive was highlighted by a 41-yard pass from Hulsey to Burke. The two-point conversion attempt failed as Union ran out of time, losing 23-13.