The Union Knights and North Fayette Valley TigerHawks, though no longer in the same Class 2A district, are familiar foes, having played each other four times now in the past three seasons. On Friday night, the Knights posted their third consecutive victory over the traditional powerhouse out of West Union. But it wasn’t easy. It never is when these two teams hook up.
For the second consecutive week, Union started fast. This week, it was Britton Rolison stutter-stepping through the center of the field before breaking clear on the opening kickoff for a scintillating 86 yard touchdown return. The missed extra point kept the Union advantage at 6-0.
North Fayette tested the center of the Union defense early in the first quarter and the Knights would have nothing of it, forcing punts on the first two Tigerhawk possessions. After trading interceptions, the Union offense took possession on their 40 yard line and put together a 14 play drive, culminating with a two yard touchdown run by junior Brayden Grosse. Another failed conversion attempt, though, this time on a two-point run from scrimmage, left the score 12-0, Union.
After dominating the first quarter of play, momentum shifted to North Fayette following the block of a 40 yard Union field goal attempt midway through the second quarter. The vaunted TigerHawk ground game began to gain traction, and when Gunnar Rodgers broke several tackles on his way to a 22 yard touchdown scamper, suddenly, it was a 12-7 game.
The Union offense responded immediately and it appeared that Brayden Grosse had scored his second touchdown of the game on a beautiful, 61 yard run that started left and finished right. A costly penalty call, however, took the points off the board and backed the Knights up to the North Fayette Valley 14 yard line. After the drive stalled, Marc Mahood’s 32 yard field goal cleared the crossbar and the Knights led, 15-7.
With 2:46 remaining in the half, back came the TigerHawks. Starting at their 20 yard line, the North Fayette Valley offense covered 80 yards in 12 plays, scoring a touchdown and two point conversion with less than 15 seconds left on the game clock.
Tied 15-15, the TigerHawks had all the momentum and receipt of the second half kickoff. After another booming Mahood kickoff, North Fayette Valley began another long march to the Union end zone. Aided by some critical penalties that kept the drive alive, the TigerHawks ran more than 20 plays and nearly nine minutes of the third quarter game clock to move the ball to the Union 7. Having run 42 of the game’s previous 48 offensive plays, it appeared it was just a matter of time before North Fayette Valley would claim their first lead of the game. For the second week in a row, however, the Knights’ defense showed immense resolve and found a way to make the plays when they needed them the most, stopping the TigerHawks on fourth down.
From there, the Union offense began to win what would become a battle for field possession, aided by a tremendous catch by senior Bryce Parker. After quarterback Dylan Felderman’s pass was nearly intercepted by a TigerHawk defender, Parker hauled in the tipped ball to give Union an important first down. From there, the game quickly turned into a defensive showdown, as both teams could not sustain any offense as the hard hits and penalties mounted.
Midway through the fourth quarter, the Union offense took over at their own 47 yard line following a short North Fayette Valley punt. On 4th and 15, the Knights lined up for what appeared to be their third consecutive drive-ending punt. Instead, Parker took the fake punt snap at his 35 yard line and bolted up the middle for a first down and more, juking one defender to get to the right sideline before coasting into the end zone. Union’s second special teams touchdown would prove to be the game winner, as the Knights turned North Fayette Valley over on downs to run out the clock.
Union returns home for another stern test, this time against Class 3A Charles City (1-1), who defeated New Hampton, 21-9, last week.