Chiefland took advantage of three first-half Union County (Lake Butler) fumbles and three Clint Thomas touchdowns en route to a 29-27 home in the 1A-Region 3 Final.
The Indians (11-1) handed the visiting Tigers (12-1) their first loss of the season and will advance to the state semifinals where they will host Madison County (Madison), who defeated Blounstown 35-0, next Friday.
The two teams entered the contest in contrasting fashion as Chiefland barely escaped a 28-27 overtime home win over Lafayette (Mayo) last Friday while Union County went on the road and crushed Hilliard, 52-14.
“This is special,” said Chiefland coach Adam Gore. “This is the third time I’ve gotten to the regional finals but this is the first time I’ve gotten over the hump.
Trailing 23-21 with 6:48 left in the contest, Union County went to punt, but Caleb Crawford’s kick was blocked by Chiefland’s Jon Adams, who then picked up the ball and raced 55 yards for the score. The kick was blocked, giving the Indians a 29-21 lead.
Both teams exchanged punts on the next two possessions as Union County got the ball back on its own 37-yard line with 3:15 left. The Tigers marched down the field capping the drive with a Rayvont Durant 1-yard plunge, but the pivotal play came when quarterback AJ Cortese, rolling to his right, couldn’t connect with Demarius Williams for the tying 2-point conversion.
The Indians recovered the onside kick and ran out the final 1:06 on the clock.
“Nine out of 10 times the most physical team wins, and they took pride in that,” said Gore. “We say all the time don’t worry about the score, don’t worry about penalties, don’t worry about turnovers, play as hard as you can and as physical as you can and that’s our motto.”
The first quarter started with Chiefland punting on its opening drive, but the Tigers promptly gave the ball back when they fumbled on their first play from scrimmage. The Indians drove inside the red zone where the drive stalled and Dylan Cochran kicked a 28-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.
Union County answered on its next drive with Cortese keeping the ball for a 25-yard touchdown run. Jonathan Edwards’ extra point kick put the Tigers ahead 7-3.
Chiefland responded with Thomas scoring from the 5-yard line after being set up by Dakota Fisher’s 76-yard run to put the Indians back on top 10-7.
On the ensuing drive, Union coughed up the ball with Lawrence Rivers recovering it, but the Indians would punt the ball away. The Tigers went three-and-out on their next possession, but a short punt set up the Indians on the Union County 19-yard line. Four plays later, Thomas went in from the 2-yard line to put the Indians up 17-7.
The Tigers drove to the Indians’ 28 on the next drive, but on 4th-and-3, Cortese was pressured and threw incomplete for a turnover on downs. Chiefland would have it’s own 4th-and-3 on the next drive, but Thomas burst up the middle on an option-keeper for a 40-yard touchdown. The kick was missed and missed and the Indians led 23-7.
“When you get this far, sometimes you have to gamble too,” Gore said of the decision to go for it on fourth down.
Union County fumbled the ball on its next drive with the Indians recovering at its own 10, but four plays later Thomas had the ball stripped and the Tigers recovered. Cortese passed to Daylyn Diston for the touchdown and Diston followed with a 2-point run to bring the Tigers within 23-15 at the half.
In the third quarter, the teams were stalemated until Union County recovered a fumble at its 40. Two plays later, Durant scampered 40 yards for the touchdown. The 2-point run failed and the lead was 23-21 going into the final quarter.
“Way too many mistakes, both sides of the ball,” Union County coach Andrew Thomas said.” We were missing shots passing, putting the ball on the ground which is uncharacteristic for us and could never just get anything going. I don’t know how many blown assignments we had on the offensive side even down to the last play there [on the missed 2-point conversion attempt], we misexecute what we were supposed to do.
“It’s disappointing to lose like that. You play your best and get beat, you can live with that, but when you play the way we did tonight and get beat, it’s frustrating, it’s a tough one to swallow. They played better than us and that’s why they won, simple as that,” Thomas said.
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