NEWBERRY — After spotting Newberry a 21-point lead, the Jackets climbed their way out of a hole and collected a 35-28 road win.
“We could have gotten down and hung our heads but we didn’t,” said Union County Coach Steve Taneyhill.
Newberry startled the Jackets with a play action pass to open the game. The 20-yard hookup between quarterback Khalil Sheppard and Tovares Cureton was not the smash-mouth style of football that Taneyhill and the Jackets expected to see and the Bulldogs followed the play with four handoffs to tailback Tyon Williams to reach the endzone for the early lead.
An errant snap put Union County on its own 4-yard line and three plays later, the Jackets were forced to punt.
Newberry again shocked the Union County defense with a 42-yard touchdown pass to Jaylen Reeder on the first play of the drive and the successful point after kick gave the Bulldogs a 14-0 lead.
The Jackets were forced to three and out and Newberry poured it on with its third touchdown of the game to pad its lead at 21-0.
Then the Union County offense began to click.
Quarterback Keiston Smith connected with Chris Booker on a 20-yard catch-and go-before hitting paydirt with a 17-yard touchdown pass to Kalay Jones. Brandon Shetley’s PAT was good and the Jackets were on the board.
A fumble on the ensuing Newberry possession was recovered by Union County and a 14-yard pass to Victor Ruth set up a quarterback keep to cut the Bulldogs’ lead to 21-13. Shetley’s PAT was on the money and with 11:23 left in the half, Sheppard went to the air on the first play of the Newberry drive and Jordan Spencer picked off the pass to bring the Jackets’ offense back onto the field.
With fourth and one, Smith tucked the football and picked up eight yards for a fresh set of downs before finding Booker for a 35-yard touchdown. Shetley’s PAT knotted the game at 21-21 and the Jackets were in business.
Union County made a huge defensive stand, keeping the tailback to nine yards on three plays and Jamarcus Henderson — the Jackets’ big defensive end — sacked Sheppard to force the first Newberry punt of the night.
The Jackets capitalized with a 19-yard pass to T.J. Foster followed by a 35-yard Ruth reception. The drive was capped off with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Booker and the PAT was good to give Union County its first lead at 28-21.
Newberry came calling once more before intermission and a 17-yard touchdown pass resulted in a 28-28 halftime score.
The third quarter saw Union County drive the ball deep into Newberry territory on two occasions, but the Jackets were unable to convert and entering the fourth frame, the contest was tied at a 28-28 stalemate.
The Jackets began a march down field that included a 36-yard pass to Jones and ended with a 28-yard touchdown run courtesy of Smith. Shetley’s PAT was successful and Union County reclaimed the lead, 35-28.
With just over 3:00 left to play, Newberry returned the kick to the Union County 30-yard line where Derrik Good intercepted a Sheppard pass to put the ball back in Smith’s hands. The signal caller picked up 17 rushing yards before he set his sights on Booker for an 11-yard pass. Newberry held off the up-tempo Jackets offense and forced the punt. However, the Bulldogs were out of time and answers, allowing the Yellow Jackets to keep their road record clean with a 35-28 win.
Sports Editor, Tiffany Grady-Hudgins can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.