With a game time temperature hovering around 35 degrees and winds gusting up to 25 miles per hour, Union High School’s playoff game at Waukon offered both teams their first true cold weather game of the season. Union entered the game as the underdog, facing an Indians squad sporting an 8-1 record and ranked #7 in the final regular season Des Moines Register poll.
Kicking into the brisk wind, Waukon caught a break on the first play of the game when the ball careened wildly away from the Union return team on a short hop. The Indians recovered the ball at the Union 28, looking for an early score.
The Union defense rose to the challenge, though, and pushed the Waukon offense backward. On fourth down, the Indians got their second favorable bounce of the young game. Lining up as if to go for it, Waukon quarterback Peyton Hesse instead booted a quick kick that promptly hit a Union player, resulting in the Knights’ second turnover barely two minutes into the contest.
This time, the Waukon offense would not be denied, and when Hesse found a receiver in the end zone for a 19 yard touchdown pass, the Indians had a 6-0 lead.
When the Union offense finally got the ball, they countered with an impressive drive of their own. Twice, Waukon forced the Knights into 3rd and long situations. Both times, Union quarterback Troy Hanus completed pass plays to earn first downs. Facing a fourth and eight at the Waukon 25 yard line, Head Coach Joe Hadachek kept his offense on the field. His decision paid off in the form of six points, as Brock Hadachek hauled in a touchdown pass from Hanus to tie the game, 6-6.
Waukon’s offense came right back and marched down the field to reclaim the lead on a one yard run by Hesse on the first play of the second quarter. After a two point conversion, the Knights trailed, 14-6.
Momentum swung further in Waukon’s direction later in the quarter when the Indians were able to convert a 4th and 18 with a pass play to the Union 5 yard line. One play later, the Waukon lead was extended to 20-6.
With less than four minutes remaining in the half, the Union offense began to exploit weaknesses in the Waukon defense, lining up wide receiver (and former quarterback) Dylan Stech in a wildcat formation. Time and again the Knights ran the read option play to perfection, as Britton Rolison, Brock Hadachek and Stech repeatedly gashed the Indians for big yardage on the ground. Starting at their 38, the Knights quickly advanced the ball to the Waukon 30, where a muffed exchange between Stech and Hadachek left the ball on the ground. Waukon’s Wyatt Willie quickly scooped up the fumble and dashed 62 yards in the other direction. Suddenly it was a 26-6 game.
With Waukon up by 20 points and receiving the second half kickoff, Union came out and proceded to dominate play on both sides of the ball. The Waukon offense had three possessions in the third quarter. Two ended with failed fourth down conversion attempts. The other ended with something much rarer- a Waukon punt. Meanwhile, the Union ground game continued to churn out the yards. Midway through the quarter, the Knights used a short field to drive the ball 50 yards. When big Mike Ahrendesen barreled into the end zone from one yard out, the Knights cut the Waukon lead to 26-13, with the home crowd getting nervous.
Once again, though, a turnover would prove costly for Union. With the Knights on the move again and deep in Waukon territory, the Indians pounced on Union’s fourth fumble of the game. Waukon cashed in the opportunity, as another long pass play on fourth down led to a touchdownto turn back the spirited Union rally.
After making their eighth consecutive postseason appearance, a relatively young Union squad finished the season 4-2 in district play, 4-6 overall. The Knights anticipate the return of eight out of eleven starters on both sides of the ball next season.