Count the Union Titans in as believers in the improved play of the Battle Ground Tigers.
The Titans scored the final three touchdowns to break open a tie game in the second half Friday, escaping McKenzie Stadium with a 28-7 victory over the Tigers in a Class 4A Greater St. Helens League football game.
The Titans (5-1, 2-0 GSHL) also left with a new respect for their opponents.
"I knew they had a good team, but I wasn't expecting them to be that good of a team," Union senior linebacker Matt Reeves acknowledged. "I'm definitely impressed with how Battle Ground played."
Still, Union's power football prevailed. The Titans' offensive line controlled the second half, the Union defense was strong all night, and a tired Battle Ground (5-1, 1-1) squad could not keep up toward the end of the contest.
Leon Siofele rushed for 170 yards on 23 carries with a touchdown, and Treve' Ensley rushed for 75 yards and three scores for the Titans.
"My line did a great job executing their blocks," Siofele said. "I didn't think too much. I just let the game come and let it flow."
Ensley scored on runs of 2, 9, and 8 yards.
"It was amazing. I was trying to make the most out of every carry," Ensley said. "I was running with my head down and being more physical. That was my key coming into this week."
While the offense was held to one first-half TD, the Union defense was up to the challenge all night. The Tigers came into the game scoring 42.2 points per game.
"We had to stop 38," Reeves said, referring to Battle Ground running back Kevin Haynes. "And we knew they had good receivers. Our defensive backs did a really good job. For the most part, our defense was locked up. Our defense was key the whole game. Everyone did their part."
Haynes was held to 54 yards on 19 carries.
He did get free on a screen pass from quarterback Ian Humphrey for a 70-yard gain to the Union 2-yard line on the first series of the second half. Haynes would end up cashing in with a 1-yard touchdown run on a fourth-down play to tie the game.
After both teams forced punts, the Titans took the lead for good on a seven-play, 88-yard drive at the end of the third quarter. Siofele got through the Battle Ground defense for a 48-yard run to open the drive. Ensley's 9-yard touchdown run made it 14-7.
"This group has responded to adversity in positive ways," Union coach Cale Piland said. "We could have succumbed to (the lost) momentum, but we kept going. Sooner or later, we got the breaks to go our way."
The Tigers got a first down on its ensuing possession before Union linebacker Kevin Grimsted took over for a couple plays. First, he sacked Humphrey for a 9-yard loss.
"I felt like the game was on the line," Grimsted said. "I timed the blitz perfectly. I saw the quarterback right there. It was my opportunity. I had to make what I had of it."
Then, on the a third-and-long play, Grimsted sniffed out the wide receiver screen pass and made a tackle for a 2-yard loss, forcing a punt.
The Titans capitalized with a four-play, 44-yard drive and a 21-7 lead when Siofele scored on a 12-yard run.
Moments later, Union's Bryce Evans intercepted a Tiger pass, which led to a nine-play, 48-yard touchdown drive, with Ensley scoring from eight yards.
The Titans went 66 yards on 12 plays on the first drive of the game, with Ensley scoring on a 2-yard run for a quick 7-0 lead. Both defense rule the rest of the half.
After Battle Ground tied the game in the third quarter, the Titans outgained the Tigers 198 to 61.
Still, the Titans, who beat the Tigers by a combined score of 98-9 the last two seasons, had to battle this year.
"Our big positive that we're taking away is we were able to hang with them for so long," Battle Ground coach Larry Peck said. "We knew we were a better team this year and could hang with them. We were hoping to pull off the upset."
There was a time in the third quarter, even early in the fourth quarter, when that was possible
"We had to play four quarters of football tonight," Piland said. "I tip my hat to them. Their kids played really hard, and they made us work for it."
UNION 28, BATTLE GROUND 7
Battle Ground 0 0 7 0--7
Union 7 0 7 14--28
U -- Treve' Ensley 2 run (Mitch Wheelon kick)
BG -- Kevin Haynes 1 run (Hayden Humphrey kick)
U -- Ensley 9 run (Wheelon kick)
U -- Leon Siofele 12 run (Wheelon kick)
U -- Ensley 8 run (Wheelon kick)
RUSHING -- Battle Ground: Haynes 19-54, Trevor Ingram 1-10, Blake Billingsley 3-6, Ian Humphrey 5-(-13); Union: Siofele 23-170, Ensley 13-75, Nolan Henry 2-12, Trent Cowan 1-15.
PASSING -- Battle Ground: I. Humphrey 13-20-1-157; Union: Henry 8-16-0-63.
RECEIVING -- Battle Ground: Ingram 5-35, Jake Sachen 4-28, Haynes 2-79, H. Humphrey 2-15; Union: Trent Cowan 5-32, Siofele 3-31.