ISSAQUAH — Union linebacker Alex Berfanger met the ball carrier in the middle of the pile, simply took the ball out of his hands, and then ran into the end zone for a first-quarter touchdown.
Pretty much the whole game was that easy for the Union Titans in their state preliminary round football playoff Friday night against the Issaquah Eagles.
Leon Siofele rushed for four first-half touchdowns, Berfanger added a rushing touchdown as well, and Union (8-2) crushed the Eagles 51-21 to advance to the Class 4A state playoffs.
It wasn't even that close.
The Eagles scored the last three touchdowns of the game, long after this one went to a running clock format.
Union was just that good.
"It's huge. Not just a confidence boost, but we found our identity as a team," said quarterback Nolan Henry, who threw for 109 yards in the team's first two offensive possessions then did not need to throw again. "We can play at this level every single week."
The Titans hope to remain that good next week when they go on the road to face Eastlake of Sammamish.
Union figured it could win Friday's game, but not even the Titans could have imagined having a 44-point lead at the half on the road in the playoffs.
"We played with a chip on our shoulder," Henry said. "We came out hard, we came out executing, and we came out fighting."
The Eagles never knew what hit them.
The Titans opened the game with a 13-play drive that took up nearly half the first quarter. Siofele punched it in from a yard out to make it 7-0.
A minute later, Berfanger was on his way to the end zone with a 42-yard fumble return.
For a second, it appeared only Berfanger and the official knew he had the ball, with players from both teams wondering what happened.
"My team just held him up and the ball was right there," Berfanger said, crediting nose tackle Josh Lee for blowing up the play from the beginning. "I just took it from him."
An odd feeling, running alone with the ball for so long, he said.
"It was extremely surrealistic," Berfanger said. "I didn't believe it when I was running into the end zone."
Union's last touchdown of the night was on defense, too. Zac Lamirata picked up a loose ball and returned it 32 yards. Everyone saw that play, though. And everyone noticed the 51-0 on the scoreboard just seconds into the third quarter.
"We had a performance tonight we knew we were capable of all year," Union coach Cale Piland said. "We kept growing, and we kept improving. Hopefully it's a sign we're peaking at the right time."
Siofele finished with 125 yards on 16 first-half carries with four touchdowns. He has 23 rushing touchdowns this season.
His third of this night was the most impressive. A big back, Siofele also is fast. He burst past the line of scrimmage, drifted outside, then outran the Issaquah defense for a 62-yard touchdown to make it 28-0 less than four minutes into the third quarter.
After another Siofele touchdown, the Titans got two more points when Issaquah snapped the ball out of the end zone for a safety. Three plays later, Berfanger scored on an 8-yard run to make it 44-0.
The Titans scored the first seven times they possessed the ball, stopping only to kneel down in victory formation before the end of the first half. And yes, even though it was halftime, it was the victory formation.
"It's a fantastic feeling to come up here and get this," offensive lineman Aaron Anderson said. "It's just really exciting to dominate like we did tonight."
Union gained 280 yards in that first half, then sat the starters the rest of the night.
"It really was a complete performance," Piland said.
UNION 51, ISSAQUAH 21
Union 14 30 7 0—51
Issaquah 0 0 7 14—21
U — Leon Siofele 1 run (Sterling Ransom kick)
U — Alex Berfanger 42 fumble return (Sterling Ransom kick)
U — Siofele 3 run (Sterling Ransom kick)
U — Siofele 62 run (Sterling Ransom kick)
U — Siofele 2 run (Sterling Ransom kick)
U — Safety, snap out of end zone
U — A. Berfanger 8 run (Sterling Ransom kick)
U — Zack Lamirata 32 fumble return (Sterling Ransom kick)
I — Derek Chapman 8 pass from Jack Neary (Jason Schwartz kick)
I — Tommy Nelson 66 pass from Neary (Schwartz kick)
I — Chapman 43 pass from Cameron Humphrey (Schwartz kick)
RUSHING — Union: Siofele 16-125, Ethan Beniga 2-8, A. Berfanger 3-48, Caleb Browning 5-40, Zach Berfanger 2-0, Thomas Lampkin 1-5, Team 2-(minus 2). Issaquah: Jack Gellatly 15-118, Derek Chapman 2-(minus 1), Jack Neary 7-(minus 25), Humphrey 1-(minus 2), Team: 1-(minus 9).
PASSING — Union: Nolan Henry 5-7-0-109, Lampkin 0-1-0-0. Issaquah: Neary 18-30-0-183, Humphrey 2-2-0-48.
RECEIVING — Union: Beniga 3-84, Siofele 2-25. Issaquah: Chris Egland 3-32, Tommy Nelson 6-64, Chapman 7-98, Gellatly 3-22, Jeff Shipley 1-15.