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Dec. 3, 2020

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Friday Night Flashback: Union’s playoff gauntlet began with exciting 2008 victory

Recalling wild finish with blocked field goal and TD

By , Columbian Assistant Sports Editor
Published:
3 Photos
Union's Mitch Saylor (18) returns a blocked Ferndale field goal attempt for the winning touchdown with seconds remaining in the game to break a 14-14 tie, Saturday, November 22, 2008. Union won 21-14.
Union's Mitch Saylor (18) returns a blocked Ferndale field goal attempt for the winning touchdown with seconds remaining in the game to break a 14-14 tie, Saturday, November 22, 2008. Union won 21-14. (Steven Lane/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

When Mitch Saylor thinks about the 2008 Class 3A quarterfinal game with Ferndale, a couple of things come to mind.

“Well, the first thing is that was a long time ago,” the 2010 Union High graduate said. “But the second thing is just one word — wild. That was the wildest ending to a football game that I was ever part of.”

In 2008, Union High was in its second year of existence, and its first football season with seniors on the roster.

“Dex Homer was one of those seniors,” Saylor added.

The Titans went 9-0 in the regular season, capturing the 3A Greater St. Helens League title. They opened the playoffs with wins over Rainier Beach and Timberline before hosting a state quarterfinal matchup with perennial state power Ferndale at McKenzie Stadium.

“(Ferndale), Bellevue or Lakes would be the three teams in the 3A that everybody figured had the best shot of winning it all,” then-Union coach Cale Piland said recently. “We really felt like we had to go through a gauntlet having to play Ferndale, then follow it up with Lakes and Bellevue.”

The first leg of that gauntlet was a major event at McKenzie Stadium.

“I remember thinking I had not seen that many at McKenzie before,” Saylor said. “I looked up at the stands and didn’t see very many empty seats.”

The fans were treated to a classic, grind-it-out battle between the Titans and Eagles. Ferndale took 14-0 lead in the second quarter, but Union rallied to tie it 14-14 in the third quarter.

The score remained unchanged until the final minute of the game when Ferndale hit on a 25-yard pass late, setting up a 44-yard field goal attempt with 14 seconds left.

“Initially, I was kind of surprised they were going to try the field goal because there aren’t a lot of high schoolers who were going to make a 44-yarder,” Piland said. “So we were really concerned about a fake. … We attacked the kick from one side and played it safe on the other side in case they did run the fake.”

Homer and Saylor were on the attack side, with Homer lined up inside of Saylor. Homer broke quickly off the snap, dove and blocked the kick.

Original game story

Union's Mitch Saylor (18) returns a blocked Ferndale field goal attempt for the winning touchdown with seconds remaining in the game to break a 14-14 tie, Saturday, November 22, 2008. Union won 21-14.
Titanic turnaround as Union beats Ferndale 21-14
Mitch Saylor’s 65-yard return of Dex Homer’s blocked field goal with 3 seconds to play gave the Titans a 21-14 victory over Ferndale in a…

“I was right behind Dex,” Saylor said. “After he blocked it, the ball just bounced right into my arms. From there, it was nothing but green Astroturf in front of me.”

Saylor’s return of 74 yards gave Union a 21-14 lead. The fans at McKenzie went crazy, almost too crazy.

“That was before we had the fencing around the track at McKenzie,” Piland said. “So our student body came out of the stands, like the game was over and they wanted to rush the field. And our district team and security were doing everything they could to keep them back.”

Saylor added: “I don’t think they ever got on the field, but I remember them all on the track.”

There were still a few seconds on the clock. Union kicked off to Ferndale, setting up a crazy final return filled with six laterals by the Eagles.

“Your heart skipped a beat there because there was some open field at times,” Piland said.

Saylor added: “They went back and forth several times. It felt like the longest play I’ve ever seen.”

But in the end, the Titans stopped the Eagles and the real celebration could begin.

Saylor, 28, still lives in Vancouver. He’s married with two young sons, and works for Adidas. But he still can remember that win as one of many big wins in his last two years at Union.

The Titans would follow the win up by beating Lakes 28-7 in the semifinals before falling to Bellevue 35-6 in the 3A title game. The next season, Union would meet Bellevue again, this time in the state semifinal, which Bellevue won 19-13.

Saylor would get to celebrate a state title in March of 2010, as a member of Union’s boys basketball team. He had the game-winning basket with six seconds left in a 63-62 semifinal win over Lakes.

“I feel like, as an entire school, we had a bunch of momentum,” Saylor said. “And it all started with that Ferndale game.”

“It was definitely a branding moment for our high school,” Piland said.

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