Wildcats dominate Tigers in playoff game
By JON KLEINKNECHT
Inquirer Sports Editor
RICHWOOD — The undefeated North Union Wildcats (11–0) piled up 517 yards of total offense — 435 rushing — in a 40–21 rout of the Galion Tigers (9–2) in a Division IV regional quarterfinal playoff game here last night.
The Wildcats never trailed. After returning the opening kickoff 12 yards to their own 27-yard line, they needed just two plays to cover the remaining 73 yards.
Averaging a mere six passes a game entering the contest, North Union caught the Tigers off guard with a 46-yard completion on a rollout on their first play. Kam Smith then took a handoff and raced 27 yards for a touchdown. A Daniel Barr conversion kick made it 7–0.
Undeterred, the Orange-and-Blue wasted little time in responding.
On their first play, quarterback Austin Prosser hit wide receiver Dareian Watkins in stride with a long pass that resulted in a 67-yard touchdown connection. Connor Kempf’s extra point kick tied the score at 7–7.
Seven minutes afterwards, the Wildcats went up 14–7 via a 36-yard TD pass from quarterback Dustin Crabtree to Nate Curts and another Barr PAT kick.
Less than three minutes later, Smith tore through the Galion defense for a 65-yard touchdown jaunt on a reverse play. Barr’s third PAT of the opening period made it 21–7.
At the 5:27 mark of the second frame, the Orange-and-Blue cut the deficit to 21–13 on a 7-yard, six-point romp up the middle by David Nay. The ensuing conversion kick was no good.
North Union got the points back less than two minutes later when Thane Hoffman romped into the endzone from 12 yards out, culminating a drive of 61 yards in just four plays — all being gains of at least 12 yards.
Galion followed with a three-and-out on its next possession.
On a first-and-10 play from their own 28, the Wildcats made it 33–13 as Hoffman blistered the Tigers for a 72-yard paydirt gallop on a reverse. The PAT kick was no good, but the hosts took a commanding 33–13 lead into the lockerroom at halftime.
In the first two quarters, the winners hammered the Tigers for 411 yards in offense — 329 rushing on only 23 carries, a norm of 14.3 yards-per-attempt — plus completing 4-of-4 passes for 82 stripes. Galion managed a mere 36 yards rushing on 16 tries and completed 6-of-11 passes for 99 stripes and had one pass intercepted.
The Tigers cut the gap to 33–21 at 5:45 of the third stanza when Nay shot through off tackle for a 16-yard TD scamper. Watkins followed with a 2-point conversion run.
But, the hosts put the icing on the cake chewing nearly six minutes off the clock in the final period, finishing with a 13-yard run for six points by Smith on a left-side sweep with 5:23 left. Barr’s ensuing conversion kick was good, accounting for the final score.
“I’ll be honest. They’re good, but it shocked me what they did to our defense,” said Galion head coach Chris Hawkins. “I thought 21 points would win tonight. If you’d told me we’d score 21, I’d said, ‘Good. We’re going to week 12.’”
“I think the difference tonight was the line of scrimmage,” he added. “Their offensive line was the difference in the game. Plus, we were asking our offensive line to block the best front four we’ve faced in three years.”
Final statistics had the Tigers gaining only 63 yards on 32 carries. They also completed 12-of-22 passes for 164 markers for 227 yards in offense.
North Union averaged nearly 10 yards per rushing attempt with 435 stripes on 44 attempts. That includes minus-2 on the final two plays of the game which were victory formation kneel downs inside the Galion 10. The victors were 4-for-6 passing for 82 yards. All four completions were in the first half.
Entering the game averaging almost 45 points per Friday night and more than 300 yards a game on the ground, the Wildcats’ offense features three running backs who all gained more than 800 yards during the regular season. Smith victimized the Tigers for 208 yards on 15 carries. Hoffman added 149 on only 11 attempts, while fullback Jake Blevins totaled 61 via 12 rushes in the physical, Wing-T offense.
Individually for Galion, Prosser netted 26 yards rushing on 14 tries, Nay had 25 on 12; Watkins, 12 on 5 runs; and Antonio Burket, 1 carry for no yards.
Prosser was 12-for-20 passing for 164 yards and was picked off once. Watkins was zero-for-2 throwing the ball.
Watkins led Galion’s receivers with 9 catches for 141 yards. Nay had 3 receptions for 23 stripes.
“Now that the season has concluded, we can sit back and reflect on what we’ve done,” Hawkins stated and mentioning the Tigers achieved their first two goals of the season — winning an outright North Central Conference championship and making the playoffs. “We’re losing a great senior class.”
This is the fourth year in a row North Union has made the playoffs.
Last night’s playoff victory was the first in school history.
Members of the Mid Ohio Athletic Conference — the same league the Tigers will be joining in two years — the Wildcats have a record of 47–7 under fifth-year head coach Jesse Miller, a winning percentage of .870. They will play undefeated and top-ranked Columbus Bishop Hartley next Friday in a regional semifinal battle. Hartley pounded Upper Sandusky (7–4) 63–19 last night.