For all but 3:09 of Friday night’s football game at Stierberger Stadium, the Union Wildcats controlled the game against the St. Francis Borgia Regional Knights.
But all of that threatened to change at the end.
Union led 14-12, but Borgia drove down the field and took a timeout with fourth and five at the Union eight. Just 6.8 seconds remained on the clock and the Knights lined up for a 25-yard field goal to attempt to take the lead at the close.
However, the attempt went wide left. It’s possible a Union player deflected the ball, but the result was still the same. Union had held on to beat one of its biggest local rivals, 14-12.
“It was a defensive battle,” Union Head Coach Justin Grahl said. “We talked to our kids all week and told them it was going to be a four-quarter game. It truly was, coming down to the last seconds. I couldn’t be more proud of our kids and the way that they stepped up. Our seniors showed great leadership.”
Borgia Head Coach Dale Gildehaus said his team did what it needed to do to have a chance to win.
“Union had chances to put the game away,” Gildehaus said. “They let us back into the ballgame. Union is a good ballclub and congratulations to them, but we had them. The game was there to be won.”
Grahl said Union was close to a block and could have gotten a hand on the kick.
“We talked about being disciplined, getting a good rush and getting into his face to see what we could do,” Grahl said. “Fortunately for us, it didn’t go in.”
The win also marked the first meeting for Grahl, a Borgia graduate, as a head coach against his former mentor, Gildehaus said.
“I’ve said it all week and all summer,” Grahl said. “At the end of the day, it’s two good football programs. I’ve learned a lot from Coach Gildehaus. He’s a great coach and even better man. At the end of the day, it’s all about the kids. He would have never gotten as far as he has if he didn’t have the kids first in his mind. That’s what we’re trying to build here. Hat’s off to them. They had a great game.”
Gildehaus gave Grahl credit.
“First, I congratulate Coach Grahl, a class gentleman,” Gildehaus said. “He had his kids prepared and they played better this week than last week, no question.”
Union got the first big break when Peyton Burke intercepted a Sam Heggemann pass deep in Borgia territory.
“We throw an interception and that was a killer right off the bat,” Gildehaus said. “We put ourselves in a bad position and that gave Union a lot of chances.”
The interception set up a five-yard run by Christophe Poinsett with 8:51 to go in the opening quarter. Hunter Grafrath kicked the extra point and Union never gave up the lead.
The Wildcats ran most of the plays on that short drive on the ground and were able to slowly move toward the end zone before Poinsett found a hole for the touchdown.
Sam Heggemann dove throught the pile for a one-yard score with 9:23 to go in the second half. Borgia’s attempt to tie it failed when a low snap sent holder Ryan Kell running. He was pushed out of bounds short of the goal line.
“We knew going in that special teams were going to be huge,” Gildehaus said. “We miss an extra point right off the bat and we chased that the entire game. The snap was a little low. If we get that, we go for one on the second touchdown and it’s possibly tied at the end.”
Union scored with 3:32 left in the half on a three-yard run from Matt Bray. Grafrath’s kick made it 14-6, which was the halftime score.
Borgia found its stride in the fourth quarter. Heggemann scored from eight yards out with 11:54 to play, but the two-point conversion was stopped short and Union held its 14-12 lead. That ended up being the final score as the last kick attempt missed.
Borgia was missing its two regular kickers for the game as they were in Cape Girardeau at a soccer tournament.
Both teams hit the road this Friday to open conference play.
Union plays at Sullivan (1-1). Like Borgia, the Eagles dropped to Class 3 District 2 this season.
Sullivan has a similar situation to Union. Cody Davis, an assistant for six seasons, moved up to the head coaching spot this season.
Sullivan opened the season with a 6-0 win at Hillsboro and then lost 21-15 at home to Festus last Friday.
The Eagles have a diversified offense based on the run game. Carter Dace leads the Eagles with 16 carries for 80 yards.
Levi Hurt is the team’s quarterback and he’s completed four of 11 pass attempts for 64 yards and two interceptions.
Evan Shetley is the leading tackler with 19 total stops this year.
Borgia goes to Columbia to face Tolton Catholic (0-2). This will be Borgia’s first varsity trip to Tolton, which fully joined the Archdiocesan Athletic Association last year.
The Trailblazers struggled in their first two games this season, a 40-0 loss at Hallsville in Week 1 and a 61-12 loss last week at Lutheran St. Charles.
Michael Egnew, a former University of Missouri football player, is Tolton’s head coach.
Against Lutheran St. Charles, CJ Campbell scored both Tolton touchdowns.
Tolton is a Class 2 school and is in District 5 along with Hermann. Currently, the Trailblazers sit eighth in the district standings.
The Columbia school was hit hard by graduation, losing 14 players, including key linemen and skill players, from last year’s 5-7 team.
Derek Hulsey completed 22 of 37 pass attempts for 279 yards and one interception.
“Derek Hulsey was a warrior tonight,” Grahl said. “He battled some bumps and bruises, but stayed tough.”
“Their quarterback is good, there is no doubt about it,” Gildehaus said.
Peyton Burke became Union’s all-time receiving yardage leader at 2,200 yards, Grahl reported. He pulled in eight receptions for 132 yards.
Chase Mehler had a huge night as well, catching eight passes for 104 yards.
Bray had one catch for 23 yards and Poinsett ended with two receptions for 10 yards. Donavan Rutledge had two catches for seven yards and Joey Sullivan picked up one catch for three yards.
Union ended with seven rushing yards, but picked valuable distance on the ground. Both touchdowns were scored that way.
Poinsett ran seven times for 16 yards and one score and Bray had 11 carries for 12 yards and a touchdown.
Hulsey lost 21 yards on four sacks.
“Union has passed the ball so well for a number of years now,” Grahl said. “Coach (Brent) Eckley brought the spread offense here and you look at what he did. He’s an innovator in what he did and brought to our program. Coach (Erick) Webster carried that on. We’re asking our line, running backs and receivers to do some things that are a little bit different to have more success. If you’re not changing and just resting on what you’ve done in the past, you’re not getting any better. The hard work paid off for us tonight.”
According to Union’s posted statistics, defensively, Aiden Klott had four solo tackles and 13 assists.
Poinsett posted six solo stops and five assists. Nick Luechtefeld made five solo tackles with seven assists.
David Clark and Zac Elias each had three solo tackles and five assists. Cameron Kriete and Zeek Koch each had two solo tackles. Kriete posted three assists and Koch had one.
Bray had one tackle and eight assists. Burke had one tackle and three assists. Mason Bailey had one tackle and two assists.
Rutledge and Josh Meyer had one tackle and one assist.
Borgia ran for 288 yards with two players going over the century mark.
“I can’t speak enough about our offensive line,” Grahl said. “Colton Duvall, Andy Morrow, Braden Harker, Connor Ward, Nick Luechtefeld and others, those guys are working extremely hard and they took a huge step forward tonight. We’re not going to rest on it. We’re going to keep pushing and keep working to get better.
Heggemann carried the ball 21 times for 136 yards and both touchdowns. Alonzo MacDonald ran 20 times for 101 yards.
“Alonzo and Sam did a great job,” Gildehaus said. “Sam just carried people down the field. Alonzo ran hard.”
Tyler Stieffermann ran five times for 43 yards and Brady Kleekamp had four carries for eight yards.
Heggemann was 10-18 for 92 yards and one interception passing the ball.
Seven different receivers caught passes. Branson Mitchell led the way with two catches for 25 yards. Ryan Kell had two receptions for 21 yards and Stieffermann caught two passes for 13 yards.
Grayson Helm had one catch for 11 yards. Nick Dyson caught one pass for 10 yards. Andrew Patton hauled in one catch for seven yards and Brynner Frankenberg had one reception for five yards.
Borgia had 288 rushing and 92 passing yards for 380 yards of total offense.
Kleekamp led the Borgia defense with six solo tackles and two assists.
Stieffermann, Sam Schmidt, Gavin Mueller, Dyson and Mitchell each had four tackles.
Kell and Wil Heggemann had three tackles each. Will Poepsel, Jack King, Mitchell Gildehaus, Vinny Fortner and Helm each had two tackles.
Wil Heggemann had two sacks. Schmidt and Fortner each added one.
“Wil was the one who chased down the quarterback tonight,” said Gildehaus. “Vinny Fortner and Will Poepsel really stepped up.”
Dyson recorded the interception.
“This was a great atmosphere,” Gildehaus said. “This is what high school football is all about. We were in it with a chance to win it and came up a couple of points short. We get back after it and go back to work.”
Union improved to 1-1 overall while the Knights fell to the same mark.
Union moved to sixth in the Class 4 District 5 standings with 31 points, behind leader Camdenton (2-0, 63 points), Lebanon (2-0, 58), Helias (2-0, 58), Washington (2-0, 42) and Rolla (1-1, 37.5). Union is in front of Marshfield (1-1, 25) and Pacific (0-2, 12).
Borgia, which led Class 3 District 2 after one week, fell to third behind Roosevelt (1-1, 49.5) and St. Clair (2-0, 43).
Ranked behind Borgia are Sullivan (1-1, 35), Lutheran South (0-2, 27), Owensville (1-1, 21.5), Bayless (0-2, 7) and Confluence Prep (0-2, 7).
BOR - 0-6-0-6=12
UNI - 7-7-0-0=14
UNI - Christophe Poinsett 5 run (Hunter Grafrath kick), 8:51
BOR - Sam Heggemann 1 run (run failed), 9:23
UNI - Matt Bray 3 run (Grafrath kick), 3:32
BOR - Heggemann 8 run (run failed), 11:54