Friday, September 9, 2011

Union exploits wounded Rockets in 41-16 win

MORGANFIELD, Ky. – By the end of Friday's game at Union County, Rocket football fans needed a team roster to identify the players with fairly clean uniforms who were all over the field – and it wasn't because of a runaway victory.
Rocket RB Grant Gardner didn't get this facemask call, but he
finished with a career-high rushing with 185 yards.

On the contrary, Union turned a four-point halftime lead into a second half route, beating the wounded Rockets 41-16.

In-game injuries and pre-game personnel issues left Crittenden with the insurmountable task of trying to contain Union's extraordinary speed with a cast of characters even the die-hard Rocket fan couldn't have named without a program. Two-way starter Bryce Willis (QB, DB) went down in the first half. Two-way starter Clint Asbridge (WR, DB) took a blind-side block while trying to make an open-field tackle early in the game and finished it on the sideline. Jamie Atwell was thrown into starting action because three other regulars were unavailable for the contest due to injuries, academics and other disciplinary measures. Atwell was knocked out, too.

"With the numbers we have to start with, when we can't get our personnel out there, it takes away all of our timing and chemistry," said Rocket coach Al Starnes. "In the second half we were scrambling just to find guys to put in there."

Dustin Hernandez, the Rockets top offensive player, and Devin Wallace, maybe the best defensive player through the first two games, were both ineligible to play. Additionally, backup lineman Daniel Price was out, and running back Bowe Wallace watched his third straight game from the sideline because of a back injury.

"It's really ironic because we thought we had depth this year at the skilled positions," Starnes said. "Now, that's the area where we're hurting. We've been put in a position where we're just trying to survive games instead of win them."

With third-string players in the secondary, Crittenden was vulnerable to the pass against Union's senior quarterback Kren Rister. A heady player and great athlete, Rister exploited the patchwork defense with surgical skill, throwing two touchdown passes and rolling up 260 yards through the air. But that wasn't the only chink in the armor of a generally stringy Rocket defense. The Braves rambled for 279 yards on the ground – including big runs of 79 yards by Rister for a TD and Darwin Mobley's 56-yarder to set up a crucial third-quarter Union touchdown.

Rocket Daniel Wagoner (21) leads the charge to
tackle this Union County ballcarrier.
Trailing 14-10 at the break, Crittenden was holding its own despite being shorthanded from the outset. By then, three more starters were down and Union knew it. The Braves went for the jugular, turning to the fastest guy on the team, who hadn't touched the ball up to that point. Mobley, mostly used for returning kicks, got the toss on the first play from scrimmage in the second half. He almost took it to the house, stopped only by a touchdown-saving tackle at the 15 by Wes Evers. Four plays later, Rister threw a fourth-and-four pass into the end zone for Conner Wempe. The touchdown cut deep into the Rocket psyche.

"We saw they were over adjusting to our trips (receivers) so we wanted to get the fastest guy on our team one-on-one with somebody and it worked," Union coach Steve Carter said about Mobley's big run. "That really gave us the momentum we were looking for."

From there, Union scored on three of its next four possessions, going largely to senior receiver Jake Risinger when the Braves needed a big catch. Two of their last three TDs were passes of 33 and 34 yards to Risinger. The Braves played without one of its stars, too. Running back Jerrell Foster, suffering from shin splints, never carried the ball, but got in on one play.

"They really wore us out with their speed," Starnes said.

One bright spot for the Rockets was the offensive performance by junior running back Grant Gardner. He posted a career-high 185 yards on 19 carries and took some vicious licks while doing so. 

For the Rockets, the road ahead is perhaps even tougher. Crittenden goes to Paducah Tilghman next week to take on the fifth-ranked team in Class 3A. 

"We have to get ready for Tilghman so this isn't going to get any easier," Starnes said, pointing out that the Tornado has similar speed, if not more than Union County. However, Tilghman, coming off tough games against Mayfield and Graves County, have injuries of their own. The Tornado (2-2) lost to Mayfield and beat Graves by one. They had a handful of starters on the shelf Friday in the 22-21 victory over Graves.

"We have to concentrate on improving our technique and if we do that every week, we're going to be okay," the 21-year Rocket coach said.

Counting up all of the casualties after three games, Crittenden has lost eight players who figured into either starting or second-team roles, most of them on both sides of the ball. The Rockets hope to get a player or two back in the coming days though, as they prepare for the last non-district game before turning attention to the first league matchup with Reidland on Sept. 23. 

Crittenden Co.     7   3     0     6
Union County    14   0   14   13

CC-Grant Gardner 18 run (Micah Hollamon kick) 6:01, 1st
UC-Kren Rister 79 run (conversion failed) 5:34, 1st
UC-Rister 1 run (Jake Risinger pass from Rister) 4:35, 1st
CC-Hollaman 29 field goal, 4:57, 2nd
UC-Conner Wempe 11 pass from Rister (pass failed) 9:58, 3rd
UC-Risinger 33 pass from Rister (pass failed) 2:23, 3rd
UC-Risinger 34 pass from Rister (run failed) 9:08, 4th
UC-Josh Russellburg 36 run (Cody Collins kick) 5:41, 1st
CC-Zach Tinsley 2 run (run failed) :03, 4th

First Downs: Crittenden 18, Union 14
Penalties: Crittenden 4-25, Union 10-78
Rushing: Crittenden 40-279, Union 23-230
Passing: Crittenden 8-18-1, 79 yds., Union 13-23-0, 260 yds.
Total Yards: Crittenden 358, Union 490
Fumbles/Lost: Crittenden 4-1, Union 4-1

Crittenden-Gardner 19-185, Brenden Phillips 7-30, Bryce Willis 5-18, Travis Gilbert 2-4, Tinsley 4-26, Jacob Young 2-17, Lane Wallace 1-(-1). Union-Rister 8-107, Freddie Jo Gaines 10-46, Darwin Mobley 1-56, Kenneth Brummett 4-21.
Crittenden-Willis 5-11-0, 52 yds., Gilbert 3-7-1, 27 yds. Union-Rister 13-23-0, 260 yds.
Crittenden-Bobby Knox 3-57, Gardner 2-8, Phillips 1-4, Jamie Atwell 1-4, L.Wallace 1-6. Union-Risinger 4-105, Wempe 1-11, Austin Ratley 2-83, Christian Ricketson 3-23, Gains 2-37, Mobley 1-1.
Asbridge solo, assist, fumble recovery; Atwell 3 solos, assist, caused fumble; Bebout 2 solos, assist; Clark 3 solos, 2 assists; Cozart 3 solos, assist, 2 TFL, caused fumble, blocked punt, sack; Dickerson solo, assist; Evers 4 solos, assist; Gardner 6 solos, assist; Gilbert 4 solos; Knox 2 solos, assist, TFL; Mayes 2 solos; Overfield solo; Phillips 2 solos, 3 assists, fumble recovery; Stone solo, assist; Wagoner solo, 3 assists; L.Wallace 2 solos; Willis 4 solos, blocked punt.
Pizza Hut Players of the Game: Defenses Stephon Cozart, Offense Grant Gardner, Lineman Stephon Cozart, Special Teams Micah Hollamon.
Records: Crittenden 1-2, Union 2-1