UNION — After a 38-35 setback last week at the hands of Clinton, Union County (4-4, 1-2 III-AAA) will look to keep its playoff hopes alive when Chapman (4-4, 2-1 III-AAA) comes to town for Friday night’s Homecoming game.
“Our backs are against the wall,” said Head Coach Steve Taneyhill. “If we don’t come through, we’re looking at not making the playoffs.”
It’s true, with the region a jumbled mess of three-way ties for first and second place, a loss could keep Union County out of the playoffs. However, a win this week and another next week over Chester could allow the Jackets into post-season with a potential opening round home game.
On Friday, Union County will face a Chapman team that is coming off a 49-48 region upset over Woodruff.
The Panthers will showcase an up-tempo offense that likes to air it out but is also comfortable working from the ground.
“They’re balanced because they do run it some,” said Taneyhill. “The quarterback (Ben Ziegler) is real good. He’s been hurt a little bit but if he’s in there, they’ll run it even more. They’ve got a good running back too, he (Traves Smith) just doesn’t get a lot of touches.”
Smith rushed 15 times for 80 yards last week against Woodruff while Ziegler completed 19 of 37 passes for 427 yards and six touchdowns. His go-to-receiver, Tyshun Samuel, pulled down seven catches for 262 yards and Deshawn Davis grabbed six passes for 161 yards with two touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Union County fell behind early in last week’s bout with Clinton and was forced to dig its way out of a hole in the second half, nearly succeeding.
“We couldn’t run the ball and be balanced because of how the game unfolded,” said Taneyhill. “So we were playing from behind and didn’t have the ball much. We were down 24-6 and trying to score quick because you don’t get many opportunities.”
Union County quarterback Keiston Smith completed 15 of 29 passes for 269 yards with three touchdowns and rushed 12 times for 68 yards with two touchdown carries.
Wide receiver Victor Ruth was named Yellow Jacket of the Week along with defensive back Jordan Spencer. Ruth had seven catches for 120 yards with two touchdowns.
This week, Taneyhill would like to get running backs Trayvon Davis and Adrian Brown more involved in the ground game but said his offensive attack will depend upon what Chapman shows defensively.
“This team’s going to blitz a lot and we’ll have to throw quick,” he said. “Our wide-outs are gonna have to make some plays and the offensive line is really gonna have to pick up on the blitz in order for us to have a good night.”
In a game that could easily be decided by a field goal, the bottom line this week will be defense.
“Both offenses are pretty explosive, so I think it comes down to how the defenses respond and which one gets the most stops,” said Taneyhill. “What we need this week is to pressure on the quarterback.”
He’ll look to defensive ends Jamarcus Henderson and Devonte Wood to remedy the situation along with Cameron Queen who will be getting his first start of the season on the defensive line.
“We need for those guys to force the quarterback into making some bad throws,” Taneyhill explained. “Normally, if the defensive line rushes the passer well then the linebackers and the secondary play well and I think that’s the key for us this week.”
Homecoming festivities will kick off at 6:15 p.m. with senior football players and sponsors being recognized. Game time is slated for 7:30 p.m. at the Union County Stadium.
Sports Editor Tiffany Grady-Hudgins can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or by cell at (864) 251-4330.