Union Local inches closer to postseason by beating Bellaire

MORRISTOWN — If you were at Jets Stadium Friday evening and didn’t recognize the pre-game warmup that Union Local went through, don’t feel bad.

It was an entirely new routine. Head coach Bruce Stiles decided to shake things up a bit after watching his team drop two straight after a 6-0 start to begin the season.

That decision — along with some impressive offensive production in the first and fourth quarters — paid dividends. Union Local snapped its brief skid by virtue of a 38-19 victory against Bellaire. The victory did much more than get the Jets going again. It puts them on the brink of the school’s first OVAC Championship and third trip trip to the OHSAA postseason.

“We needed this for sure,” Stiles said. “We changed everything we did because we’ve been coming out flat, so I decided we needed a change. I am not saying that was it, but we came out a lot more prepared than we have the last couple of weeks and played well early.”

It didn’t take Union Local long to set the tone for the night. On the first play from scrimmage, the Jets (7-2) handed the ball off to rugged senior back Ben Howell. He proceeded to find a gaping hole in the middle of the Bellaire defense and was off to the races for a 78-yard touchdown.

The Jets didn’t stop there either. Before the Big Reds even realized what had hit them, Union Local found itself up 19-0 and appearing to be on its way to an all-out rout.

Senior Braden Lucas got into the scoring on a 2-yard run to cap a four-play drive, which was fueled by a 48-yard pass from junior quarterback Cal Kildow to Hunter McCort.

After another 3-and-out by the Big Reds, Union Local needed nine plays before it found the end zone. Kildow hooked up with Zane Thompson for the final 24 of the 83-yard march on a fourth-down play.

“The last couple of weeks we’ve came out flat for some reason,” Bellaire head coach Mark Spigarelli said. “I don’t know if that’s my fault or what’s going on. But, it’s 19-0 before we woke up and started playing Big Reds football like we’re supposed to.”

As has been the case all season, the Big Reds never quit battling. They made it a 19-7 reading at halftime thanks to a 3-yard run by senior Thor Duffy, which caped a 7-play drive, which was greatly enhanced by a pair of 15-yard penalties.

The Big Reds made it a 19-14 game in the early portion of the third quarter. Taking the second-half kickoff, Bellaire drove 62 yards with Duffy covering the final 29 on the ground. Cole LaRoche added his second PAT of the game.

The Big Reds’ defense forced a punt and they seemingly had regained all of the momentum from the first-quarter onslaught. However, the Jets’ defense came up with a much-needed stop of its own.

From there, the UL offense got untracked once again. Braden Lucas capped an impressive 11-play drive from 5 yards just 31 seconds into the fourth quarter.

The Jets added a 42-yard touchdown by Howell, who finished with a game-high 153 yards on just 16 carries, and another 3-yard run by Lucas, who finished with 49 yards, to close the scoring.

“We had a little bit of a lull there, but I thought we came out in the second half and had a workmanlike effort,” Stiles said. “We consistently did what we needed to do. Bellaire is very capable of scoring at any time, so you have to be prepared. Our defense didn’t make plays all the time, but they made plays when they had, so I was happy with that.”

The Jets were very balanced with 231 rushing yards. Kildow, meanwhile, was very efficient. He completed 11-of-14 passes for 174 yards and a touchdown.

Bellaire, meanwhile, was bottled up to a tune of a 184 yards of total offense. Senior quarterback Mason Ramsay completed 12-of-20 throws for 85 yards.

While the Jets appear to be a solid bet for the Division V postseason, the Big Reds will close out their season one week from today against arch-rival Martins Ferry, which has won five straight.

“These kids keep believing and they continue to work their butts off,” Spigarelli said. “We have one game to go and it’s the biggest one of them all. These guys will remember this (Martins Ferry) game for the rest of their lives. So, as far as I’m concerned, (Saturday) starts Martins Ferry week and we’ll be ready. I know these kids will fight like hell.”