For a half, the Dixie County football team was primed for an upset of undefeated Union County (Lake Butler) on homecoming.
After a scoreless first quarter in Cross City, Bears’ senior Carson St. Laurent kicked a 29-yard field goal with 3:02 to play in the second quarter for an early 3-0 lead.
Union County appeared to answer when senior quarterback Martin Odum found junior wide receiver Dermarius Williams on a 30-yard scoring pass with just 19 seconds to play in the half.
However, the play was called back due to a holding penalty and Dixie County led by a field goal at the half.
Despite a 10-point deficit early in the third quarter, Union County rallied with 28 unanswered points before a come-from-behind 28-12 road win in a Class 1A-Region 3 game.
“We had a lot of mistakes in the first half and couldn’t get out of our own way when we did some good things,” said Union County coach Andrew Thomas, who won his 100th game overall. “We can’t turn the ball over like that. We just never got into any rhythm.”
A screen pass from Dixie County junior quarterback Bret Nettles to senior Brenden Hall turned into a 81-yard scoring play down the right sideline to give the Bears (3-3) a 10-0 lead just one minute into the second half.
However, the Tigers (6-0) answered with a 10-yard touchdown run by Williams on 3rd-and-6 with 7:28 to play in the third quarter. Sophomore kicker Jonathan Edwards, who made all four of his extra point tries, drilled the extra point to make it 10-7.
On the ensuing possession, Nettles was intercepted by junior Daylyn Diston, who returned it to the Bears’ 22-yard line.
“I thought we played well defensively all night,” Thomas said. “We’ve just got to eliminate mistakes. But it’s the first test we’ve had on the road and to be in an environment like this, only the second road game, at the end of the day we handled a 10-0 deficit. For us to respond the way we did, I’m impressed with the kids.”
A few plays after the pick, the Tigers took their first lead at 14-10 on a 2-yard touchdown run by Diston with 3:26 to play in the third quarter and Union County never trailed again.
“We had a really good first half, but we came out in the second half and I just feel like we couldn’t tackle,” said Dixie County coach L.B. Cravey. “One big play, then two big plays. We were in position but when you are in position you’ve got to make the play, and we didn’t make the plays.”
It was just a one-score game with 1:08 to play in the third quarter when Dixie County’s Kolton Hunt was stopped less than a yard short on a 4th-and-3 at the Union County 28-yard line.
A 52-yard run by Diston put the ball on the Bears’ 10-yard line. Senior Caleb Crawford had back-to-back 5-yard runs to give the Tigers a 21-10 lead with 9:40 to play in the game.
The Bears coughed it up, with freshman Connor Bresee recovering at the Bears’ 38-yard line.
Junior Rayvon Durant put the game on ice with an 8-yard touchdown run with 7:10 to play for a 28-10 lead.
“It’s never easy when you come here,” Thomas said. “I coached here for nine years so I know the make up of these kids and how tough they are. It’s never easy in Dixie.”
Thomas improved to 100-26 overall in 10.5 years of coaching.
“For it to be here, it was pretty special for me,” Thomas noted. “But at the end of the day it’s a big win for these kids.”
Dixie County, which added a safety with 1:01 to play on a ball that was fumbled out of the end zone, will travel to Fort White next Friday, Oct. 8.
“I feel like we played really hard but just not enough to get it done,” Cravey said.
Union County will host Hollis Christian Academy (Jacksonville) next Friday.
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