The Chester Cyclones defeated the UCHS Yellow Jackets 16-0 on Friday night for the upper state championship and will play Wilson for the 3A state championship next Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia.
The loss ended Union County's first football season as a consolidated high school - the combination of Union, Jonesville and Lockhart schools. The success on the field helped unite the three communities.
“I think they've handled things with class,” said Jacket coach David Lipsey. “They've played hard. I think when the hurt wears off they'll look back with a lot of pride, a lot of memories of a good season. They've done a lot of good for the county.”
The Yellow Jackets offense, which has been dominant in six straight wins was held in check by Chester, with just 161 yards total. Marcus Whitener, UCHS' biggest weapon, was held to just 75 yards rushing.
“We just couldn't get anything going offensively,” said Lipsey. “I think their speed and quickness hurt us.”
Chester had 345 yards offense, but was kept out of the end zone for much of the game thanks to a strong game by Union County's defense.
“Our defense stayed in there and played hard, made plays - we just came up a little short,” said Lipsey. “You've got to give Chester credit.”
The Cyclones came up short on their first drive, penetrating to the UCHS 10-yard line, but dropping a pass to the end zone on fourth down.
Chester scored on its second possession, going 71 yards in five plays. Jeremy Hughes caught a 35-yard pass and quarterback Gene McCaskill ran for 22 yards to set up a 17-yard touchdown run by Julius Pendergrass.
After an interception by Charles Whitlock, Chester penetrated to the UCHS 13-yard line, but again dropped a pass in the end zone on fourth down.
The Cyclones recovered a UCHS fumble at the end of the half and took an 8-0 lead into halftime.
Marcus Lott intercepted Chester on its first possession of the third quarter. But the Jacket offense couldn't capitalize.
Still, UCHS played better in the second half, with Kelvin Booker sacking McCaskill for a 9-yard loss to end Chester's second drive.
A big blow for the Jackets was when Clay Alexander, the team's leading tackler, was ejected on Chester's next possession. UCHS held that time, but not the next.
The Cyclones marched 59 yards in 11 plays. Hughes caught a 19-yard pass, McCaskill and Pendergrass ran the rest with McCaskill scoring from 1-yard out. Devin Jackson caught a two-point pass and Chester led by 16 in the fourth quarter.
Bo Whitney replaced Dwight Brannon at quarterback, but Chester recovered a fumble on his first drive at the helm.
Whitney directed the Jackets on two drives deep into Chester territory late in the game, but UCHS came away with no points.
Union County finishes the season with a 9-5 record. The Jackets were third in Region II-3A with a 5-2 conference record.
“I think everybody is to be very proud of what this football team has accomplished,” said Lipsey.
Chester, the Region III-3A champion, advances to its first-ever state championship game. Wilson defeated Crestwood 34-28 for the lower state title.
Chester 16, Union County 0
C - Julius Pendergrass 17 run (Gene McCaskill run)
C - McCaskill 1 run (Devin Jackson two-point pass from McCaskill)
Offense: Chester 345, UCHS 161.
First downs: Chester 16, UCHS 9
Penalties: Chester 80; UCHS 40
Turnovers: Chester 1, UCHS 2
Rushing - Whitener 15-75.
Note: Chester's defense got its seventh shutout of the season.