The Union County football team completed an unbeaten regular season with a 54-0 win at Cocoa Beach last Friday.
It was the first time since 2012 that the Tigers had gone undefeated since the 11-0 team lost to Newberry, 18-13, in the Class 1A state playoffs under then head coach Ronny Pruitt.
“Anytime you can go undefeated it's special,” said Union County coach Andrew Thomas. “We did it persevering through some injuries early in the season, had a lot of different kids step in at different times and made an impact which I feel has made us better for a playoff run.”
Earlier this year, Thomas won his 100th game overall with a 28-12 win at Dixie County (Cross City). The Tigers had to rally from a 10-point deficit in the third quarter to stay undefeated.
Despite a 10-0 record, the Tigers earned the No. 3 seed in 1A-Region 3.
“Disappointed in how the seedings fell,” Thomas said. “We had to replace a couple of games because of cancellations during the weeks and in the end got punished for playing on opponents winning percentage, but in the end you can only control what you can control, and we went out and won every game. We are just using that as motivation.”
Ironically, the Tigers will host No. 6 seed Trenton, where Thomas won two state titles (2013 and 2015).
“Kind of weird playing Trenton because I invested a lot into that program from 2011-15 and we had a special run,” Thomas said. “I’m a UC Tiger now but still feel like I’m part of that family forever.”
Trenton (4-5) finished the regular season with a 48-22 win against Hamilton County (Jasper) and earned the No. 6 seed.
“We are grateful for the opportunity to play in the state playoffs,” said Trenton coach Bill Wiles. “We are playing a very, very good team in Union County.”
Last Friday’s win against the Trojans marked the fifth time this season that Trenton has scored 34 or more points in a game.
“They have the ability to score points, so we have to play sound and physical on defense and control their run game,” Thomas said.
Senior quarterback Tyler Perry is a dual threat for Trenton, averaging over eight yards per carry. He is one of several playmakers for the Tigers, along with senior running back K.J. Williams.
The duo combines to average just under 200 yards per game.
“We can’t give anything away,” Thomas said. “They have some kids that can make plays and it’s the playoffs, anything can happen, so we have to be prepared.”
Union County, which is approaching its longest winning streak since 2004 (12 games), was led by junior Rayvon Durant in rushing with 878 yards in just seven games.
Durant scored on an 80-yard touchdown run on the first play of the game last Friday at Cocoa Beach and ran for 180 yards the previous week in a 45-13 win at home against Newberry.
As a team, the Tigers' deep backfield has rushed for over 3,000 yards this season for an average of 305 yards rushing per game.
Expect to see AJ Cortese and Martin Odum play at quarterback for the gold and purple.
Senior Curran Webb leads Union County with 81 tackles, including a team-leading 27 tackles for a loss and 13 sacks.
“They have tremendous players, they are tough,” Wiles said. “Physical and very well coached. We simply want to go compete and play our best.”
This is the first meeting of the season between the two Tigers’ teams. The winner gets No. 2 seed Hilliard in next Friday’s regional semifinal.
Trenton lost a close one, 28-21, at Hilliard on Oct. 22.
The top seed in the region is Chiefland (9-1), which received a bye and will play either No. 4 seed Lafayette (Mayo) or No. 5 Fort White in the other regional semifinal next Friday.