Union County football coach Andrew Thomas is no stranger to the Dixie County series.
This Friday’s game will mark the 10th time he has faced the Bears, which included his days at Trenton when he won two state championships (2013 and 2015).
This past Monday, Thomas reflected on the Tigers Homecoming win last Friday and looked ahead to this week’s upcoming game in Cross City on his weekly video show, “Tiger Talk,” with host Steve Berrey.
“We played really well on both sides of the ball,” Thomas said when Berrey asked him about last Friday’s 47-0 win against Akelynn’s Angels Christian Academy (Winter Haven).
Thomas had one message to his team amidst all of the distractions that come during Homecoming week.
“We tell our kids, ‘that our job is to come out and put on the show at 7:30,” he said. “That’s your skit.”
And put on a show they did. They stayed injury-free and were also able “to get a lot of kids playing time too,” he said.
Union County, which had 250 yards rushing in the game, pitched its first shutout of the season and improved to 5-0.
The Class 1A Tigers, who are ranked No. 5 in last week’s state rankings, have outscored their five opponents 181-52 and they keep rolling despite the loss of starting quarterback AJ Cortese.
Cortese has been out for three weeks but has been recovering. In just two games this season, Cortese has seven carries for 96 yards and two touchdowns.
Against AACA on Friday, senior Martin Odum completed 3-of-4 passes for 105 yards and a touchdown.
Senior Curran Webb had another big game defensively recording 11 tackles, including 4.5 tackles for a loss. For the season, Webb leads the way with 51 total tackles, including 20 tackles for a loss, and a team-leading eight sacks.
“It was a good week altogether,” said Thomas, who is in his second season with the Tigers. “We’re healthy. We played well.”
The Tigers are hoping to rely on a rushing attack that has amassed 1,346 yards on 208 carries with 17 touchdowns. Union County is averaging 269.2 yards per game on the ground.
Now it’s rivalry week against a team that mirrors them offensively, with a lot of option and misdirection.
Dixie County (3-2) also likes to run the football and averages 212 yards per game on the ground, led by senior Kolton Hunt who leads the team with 312 yards rushing and nine touchdowns in four games.
“We’ve got to prepare for a physical battle,” Thomas said. “We’re going to have to go there and play well. When I was at Trenton it was a rivalry there. We were next door neighbors.”
A couple of those Trenton-Dixie County battles were in the playoffs, including one game in the state semifinals (2013).
“I’ve been in some big games against them so it’s always special to play against them,” Thomas said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for them because I know how the program is built when Coach (Brent) Wilkerson was there and it’s kind of carried over with the current staff.”
Dixie County, which is coached by L.B. Cravey, and Union County are both in 1A-Region 3, meaning its a big game for the Bears on Homecoming as they try and stay in the race for a state playoff. It’s possible the two teams could see each other again in the postseason.
“They’re physical, they play disciplined, they’re going to be well-coached, so we’ve got to match it,” Thomas said. “We’ve got to match the intensity. We’ve just got to go over there with a mindset and play well. We know we’re going to have to, to be able to go over there and win.”
The Tigers have won two in a row in the series, but the last three games have been decided by five points or less. The Bears won seven in a row from 2013-2019.
“It’s going to kind of set us up for the rest of the year,” Thomas said. “I told the kids this game is big for where we want to be going into the playoffs. If you want to be a high seed and kind of have the road paved for you, you’ve got to go win this game.”
Kickoff on Friday night in Cross City is at 7:30 p.m.