This one will sting for a while because it wasn’t supposed to end this early.
And not in this way, either.
The Union Titans lost Friday night’s Class 4A first-round football state playoff game to the Sumner Spartans falling behind by three touchdowns in the game’s first 8 minutes, 10 seconds, committed four first-half turnovers, didn’t have an answer for the Spartans’ two 100-plus-yard rushers and watched their starting quarterback go down with a broken collarbone.
Season-ending losses are never easy to take, especially for the 4A Greater St. Helens League champion Titans, whose season ended at McKenzie Stadium, 42-14.
Instead of what would have been Union’s first state playoff win since 2011, the Titans ended their season 9-2 overall.
The Spartans (9-2), a team which a season ago came to McKenzie Stadium and lost to eventual state champion Camas in the 4A semifinals, hosts Monroe in next week’s quarterfinals.
In a flash, or in coach Rory Rosenbach’s words, “I felt like I blinked, and it was 21-0,” the Titans trailed by three scores with the scoreboard showing 3:50 remaining in the first quarter.
And by the time bulldozing back Ben Wilson — at 6-foot-2, 228-pounds — scored his second touchdown, a 5-yard run with 4:54 left in the second quarter, he already had 132 yards on just 12 rushes.
He finished with 195 yards on 21 carries as he and Bryan Falk (101 yards, 21 carries, TD) also had a 100-yard rushing night.
“We were prepared for the run. We knew they’d shove it down our throats with Wilson,” said senior Braedon Ensley. “They did what they do best.”
As the third-place team from the South Puget Sound League, the Spartans have now won six in a row, and because of the run-game success, quarterback Luke Ross, an 1,800-yard passer entering Friday, didn’t attempt his first pass until the second quarter. Once he did, he threw back-to-back completions for a 53-yard touchdown pass to Alex Fraser as part of a 4-for-7 and 102-yard passing night.
He called the victory over third-ranked Union his team’s best performance of the season. The Spartans last loss in back-to-back defeats in late September to Graham-Kapowsin and Puyallup.
“It was so good to see our team at our full potential,” Ross said.
Union, though, struggled with its run game and turnovers (two fumbles, two interceptions). It was without all-league running back Jojo Siofele, who was limited to defense only after his ankle injury in last week’s 41-14 win over Tahoma. He played sparingly at safety. Elijah Jones got the start at tailback, but the Titans were held to 58 rushing yards in the game.
And the hits kept coming.
Inside 2 minutes to play in the first half trailing 35-7, starting quarterback Lincoln Victor, the 4A Greater St. Helens League’s Offensive Player of the Year, took a hit after a short run play on the Titans’ final drive of the half. He stayed in for one more play, completing a pass to Darien Chase for 11 yards before exiting. He walked off the field under his own power, but did not return.
He said postgame he suffered a broken collarbone, the fourth time in his career he’s broken his collarbone, but the first on his throwing shoulder.
The void was visible not only for his dual-threat play-making, but also his leadership.
“That hurt bad; that hurt deep,” Ensley said. “Once we saw him walk off and be in severe pain, it was scary. Carter (Sutton) came in and did a good job, but it was hard to play without (Victor).”
Sutton, Victor’s backup, completed 50 percent of his passes (9-for-18) for 128 yards, including a 76-yard touchdown pass to Darien Chase in the fourth quarter. Chase finished with three catches for 91 yards.
It was Chase’s 89-yard kick return in the first half that gave Union a spark trailing by three touchdowns. He took the kickoff return from the 11-yard line, and zig-zagged his way to the 3.
But the next play, a fumble in the end zone led to a touchback, and Sumner’s ball at the 20.
The turnover eventually led to Wilson’s second touchdown of the night on the ensuing Sumner drive for the 35-7 lead.
Still, for Union, there’s plenty to be proud of from a 9-2 campaign: a five-win improvement from back-to-back 4-5 seasons, a 4A GSHL title, the program’s first since 2009.
For Victor, who returned to the sideline in the second half with his team, gave praise to not only the senior class, but to the returnees for next season.
“We reset the standard this year,” he said. “Next year, it’s how we live up to that, and it’s only the beginning from now.
“And that’s what we’re priding on right now.”
SUMNER 42, UNION 14
Sumner 21 14 7 0 – 42
Union 7 0 0 7 – 14
S – Ben Wilson 31 run (Alex Pagonis kick)
S – Bryan Falk 2 run (Pagonis kick)
S – Blake Tannehill 33 fumble return (Pagonis kick)
U – Alishawuan Taylor 24 pass from Lincoln Victor (Alex Koga kick)
S – Alex Fraser 53 pass from Luke Ross (Pagonis kick)
S – Wilson 5 run (Pagonis kick)
S – Ross 1 run (Pagonis kick)
U – Darien Chase 76 pass from Carter Sutton (Koga kick)
RUSHING — Sumner: Bryan Falk 21-101, Tre Weed 7-37, Ben Wilson 21-195, Luke Ross 3-(minus-5); Union: Lincoln Victor 5-43, Braden Ensley 2-4, Carter Sutton 2-(minus-9), Elijah Jones 4-11.
PASSING — Sumner: Luke Ross 4-7-0-102, Tre Weed 0-1-0-0; Union: Lincoln Victor 7-15-0-56, Carter Sutton 9-18-2-128.
RECEIVING — Sumner: Alex Fraser 2-83, Tre Weed 2-19; Union: Braedon Ensley 6-38, Alishawuan Taylor 2-23, Darien Chase 3-91, Dustin Nettles 2-8, Tiernan Stanley 2-14, Aiden Nellor 1-10.