By DYLAN MALONE
UNION CITY— It was a cold night and a cold start for the Starfires on Friday night as they faced off against the Union City Indians in the semi-final round of sectional 35, but South Adams warmed up quickly in the second quarter to jump ahead and stay ahead for the eventual 40-26 victory.
The win awards the Stars a home game against #6 ranked Sheridan next Friday night in the championship round of sectionals as the Blackhawks defeated Lapel 48-16 in the other semi-final contest.
The Stars chose to receive the kickoff first to start the game and right from the start it looked like it would be a long night. Senior returner and wide receiver Nick Batt caught the kick at the 15-yard line and ran about 13 yards before he fumbled the ball at the Stars' 28-yard line with the Indians recovering. They would score on the ensuing drive to take an early 6-0 lead, much to the surprise of the Starfire faithful.
The grim start continued to look bad for the Stars when their senior lineman captain Drew Taylor went down with an apparent leg injury during the opening drive. Taylor would leave the game in an ambulance during halftime for precautionary x-rays. Sophomore Klayton Hinshaw took his place at center for the remainder of the game.
"Klayton did a nice job for us tonight under center," praised SA head coach Jason Arnold. "This was really his first look at varsity football without counting the JV time that the fourth quarter sometimes brings and he responded really well."
The Berne boys took their next possession all the way to the Union City 31-yard line but failed to convert the fourth and ten as senior Cole Farlow coughed up SA's second fumble of the night.
The tension from the Stars' sideline was relieved somewhat when the defense, which has been South Adams' forte all season long, forced a three-and-out for the Indians. The fireworks began on the ensuing punt.
Senior Marcus Rich, who had a huge night all-around, took the punt back 80 yards for SA's first score of the game. The extra point by kicker Hiro Asaoka put the Starfires up 7-6 and in the lead where they would stay for the remainder of the game.
The Starfires wasted no time in the second quarter when they got the ball back with 9:30 remaining in the half. The first play of the drive was a long bomb attempt from senior QB Dustin Wanner that went off the fingertips of a wide-open Batt. Wanner would get another chance two plays later when he hooked up with Rich for his second touchdown of the night on a 77-yard pass play to put SA up 14-6.
Union City retaliated with a beautifully executed touchdown pass that started as a reverse run from junior quarterback Grant Shoemaker to running back James Anonoglou and ended with a hand off and toss from their senior wide receiver Gary Williams to Brandon Journay 24 yards away in the end zone all alone. The Indians would fail on the two-point conversion.
South Adams would answer right back when they tacked on a third score just before the half. Wanner once again found Rich for a touchdown pass, this time for 33 yards. The extra point was wide and the Stars went into the locker room up 20-12.
Coach Arnold commented on the Stars emerging passing game, "We knew coming into this game that we would have to throw the ball. Teams that see our stats notice we have mostly rushing yards for our offense but we have the talent on this team to make those plays when we need them."
Union City opened up the second half with a promising drive that took them deep into Starfire territory only to have the SA defense step up once again when senior defensive wide-out Kyle Raugh intercepted a Shoemaker pass at the Starfire 14-yard line.
Wanner took matters into his own hands on the next Starfires possession. The four play drive consisted of Wanner rushes of 22 yards, then six and five, and finally a bust up the middle for 47 yards and an impressive 27-12 lead for SA.
Union City would keep the game interesting on the ensuing kickoff as Antonoglou returned the boot 71 yards down the field to make the score 27-18. The Indians would then get the ball right back off of an on-side kick from Aaron Burk, and take a drive once again deep into the Stars' territory.
South Adams would once again come through on defense, however, as they stopped the run on a 4th and five play from their own 24-yard line. Off of the turnover on downs, senior wide receiver Cole Farlow got into the action through the air with a 76-yard touchdown from Wanner making the score 34-18 at the end of the third quarter.
The fourth quarter strategy for SA was to milk the clock as they held the ball for a majority of the quarter with the consistent rushing from Rich and senior fullback Zach Morgan, who had a relatively quiet game with 27 yards rushing on six attempts and a few catches for 23 yards.
"Marcus Rich adds such an element to our offense," coach Arnold stated of his versatile senior. "We can run so many different plays when he is healthy and in the line-up for us." Rich only recently returned to the team after missing three weeks due to mono.
Wanner would add his second touchdown of the night, a 16-yard romp, to put the icing on the cake for SA with four minutes to go in the fourth and a comfortable 40-18 lead.
Union City refused to go quietly, however, as they would score on a 65-yard drive that lasted 2:24 and was finished by a Duran Bocanegra 1-yard goal line rush and a two-point conversion making the score 40-26 with a minute remaining. The ensuing on-side kick was once again recovered by Union City, but the drive and comeback hopes of the Indians died on fourth and long when senior Dom Richert intercepted the hail mary effort from Shoemaker.
"The victory overshadows the mistakes we made tonight, at least for a little while. We have to address those fumbles and kick-off mistakes this week in practice to make sure we fix the problems," coach Arnold added.
Union City coach Keith Maloy commented on the Starfires after the contest, "It's a painful loss, but as I told my boys, we just lost to the potential state champs."
The Starfires will have to put State aspirations aside this week as they focus on the Sheridan Blackhawks who come to town next Friday.