The Union County Braves showed why they are a top ten team in the state as they dominated the Ballard Memorial Bombers 42-7 in the opening round of the Class 2A playoffs.
The host Braves started the opening drive at their own 39 yard line and marched down the field. The Bomber defense had a chance to get off the field in the opening series, but the Braves converted a fourth and one from the Bomber 20 yard line, and then again on a third and one from the nine yard line. Two plays later, the Braves scored on a four yard touchdown. The drive took nearly three and a half minutes off the clock as the Braves drove 61 yards in ten plays.
The Bombers were down to their third string center heading into the game, and that lack of continuity in the Bomber offense proved costly all night. “It was a constant influx of kids playing in and out of different positions and changing positions,” said Bomber head coach John Elliott. On the Bomber’s first series, Alek Hugen lost one yard on his first carry, and then Trevor Langston connected with Ethan Dunning on a six yard pass. Dunning was shaken up on the play but remained in the contest. On the third down play, the Bombers were in their shotgun formation. The snap rolled back to Langston and by the time he came up with the ball, the Braves defense was surrounding him. He threw the ball toward Dunning, but Dunning had fallen due to his injury when he tried to make his cut. Hugen made a nice punt of 45 yards to force the Braves into a lengthy field to drive as they started from their own 16 yard line. That did not phase the quick strike Braves offense. On their second play, they ran 74 yards through the Bomber defense for their second score on the night.
The Bomber’s second drive was another short series. After Langston was called for intentional grounding, he then found Devoun Bledsoe on a 21 yard completion the move the ball near midfield. However, another bad exchange between center and quarterback caused a fumble and set the Bombers up with a fourth and six play. The Bomber ‘s chose to punt, and this gave the Braves possession of the ball at their own 20. This time, they scored even quicker. This drive lasted all of one play as they took the handoff and the runner alluded two would be Bomber tacklers in the backfield. He continued down the home team’s side line 80 yards for the score to extend the Braves lead to 21-0 with 5:27 remaining in the opening quarter.
Another three and out series for the Bomber offense forced the third Bomber punt on the night. This time, Hugen’s punt pinned the Braves at their own seven yard line. The Bomber defense stopped the Braves for the first time and forced them to punt the ball back away to the Bombers. The Bombers still could not manage a first down and was forced into their fourth punt of the night. This time, the Bombers could not get the punt away as the Braves broke through and blocked the punt. They picked up the blocked punt and raced into the end zone for a 28-0 lead with about 10:30 remaining in the opening half.
The Bombers were forced into another punt and the Braves would waste little time to capitalize. Another one play series ensued as the Braves went for a 70 yard touchdown run to extend the lead to 35-0 with 8:15 remaining in the half. At the 6:55 mark of the first half, Hugen ran for twelve yards to allow the Bombers to move the chains for the first time in the game. But the drive stalled and the Bombers turned the ball over on downs. The Braves finished their scoring on the night with a one yard touchdown run with 1:33 remaining in the half. The eight play and 54 yard drive put the running clock into affect for the remainder of the night.
The Bombers went three and out to start the second half. The Braves had their starting unit in the game to begin the second half and moved the ball into Bomber territory. Ballard Memorials Austin Wildharber then broke through and hit the quarterback as he was scrambling. As he was tackling the Brave’s QB, Wildharber was able knock the ball loose. Senior Zack McAfee scooped up the loose ball and ran 57 yards into the end zone for a Bomber score to cut the lead to 42-7. With 5:27 remaining in the game, the Bombers caused another fumble to the Braves starting running back that was recovered by Jabarie Bledsoe. The Bombers got a big pass reception to Devoun Bledsoe again to move the ball into Brave territory. Facing a fourth and nine from the Braves 31 yard line, Langston tried to connect with McAfee over the middle, but the Braves defensive back put a crushing hit on McAfee to separate him from the ball causing the turnover on downs. The Braves ran out the clock to advance to the second round of the playoffs with the convincing 42-7 victory. “They were a lot better football team than we were,” said Elliott as he added, “They were a lot bigger, they were along stronger, and they were a lot faster than we were, and there were a whole lot more of them.” The Braves dressed nearly 60 players while the Bombers had 19 players dressed in the second half of the contest.
The Braves rushed the ball 40 times for 487 yards and five touchdowns while the Bombers only managed 19 carries for seven yards offense. Hugen ended with 10 carries for 12 yards, Langston had 2 for minus 17 yards, while Andrew Burton ran seven times for 12 yards. In the air, Langston was five of fifteen for 71 yards and was intercepted one time. His leading receiver was Devoun Bledsoe who came down with three receptions for 62 yards, Dunning had the one catch for six yards and McAfee had one catch for three yards.
“They’re a really good football team,” said Elliott of Union County as he added, “They’re as good of a football team as we played all year with the exception of Caldwell.” Elliott also praised his teams’ second half performance saying, We played hard, we made some good, solid tackles and caused two fumbles. That last half was a good way to end the season.”
The Bombers end the season with another 7-4 record, matching last year’s record. “Back to back seven win seasons have not happened very often in Ballard Bomber history. I appreciated all the support this year from our fans and our community,” said Elliott. The third year coach is already looking forward to his fourth year, but knows the struggles that await the team. “We’re always going to struggle to compete in the top tiers of Class 2A football. We don’t have the number of players to compete. We struggle to play at that level in 2A, we just do. We’ve got to get a lot bigger, stronger, faster, and tougher to play at this level.”