MURRAY, Ky. - Some argue there's no moral victories in sports, but if there ever was one, the Union College football team scored one in its 73-26 loss to host NCAA FCS Murray State (Ky.) on Thursday.
"I'm not into moral victories much, but in this case, I am," said Union head coach Zak Willis. "I'm not overjoyed, but at the same time, I'm very satisfied knowing this program is headed in the right direction."
The Bulldogs (0-1 overall) came out fighting from the outset. Yet, a few dropped passes and turnover prevented Union's offense from staying on the field longer in the first quarter. As it was, Murray State (1-0 overall) reeled off 21 quick points for a three-score lead by the 5:47 mark.
After falling back 21-0, the Bulldogs mounted a six-play, 75-yard drive to find the end zone for the first time. Already with a 20-yard run on the drive, LaVance Anderson (SR/Bowling Green, Ky.) completed the scoring march with a powerful, 12-yard run as he fought off two defenders in making his way to the goal line.
Anderson added a second scoring run in the second quarter as the Racers took a 52-13 lead into the break.
Union started the scoring in the second half when Chandler Whittlesey (SO/Columbus, Ga.) hit Kyle Keplinger (JR/Henderson, Nev.) for a 39-yard scoring play. The PAT was blocked and returned by Murray State for a defensive score, making it 54-19.
The Racers extended their lead to 67-13 and had the ball on the Bulldog 5 when Jabari Weeks (FR/Hueytown, Ala.) scooped up a fumble and raced 95 yards for the score. After the PAT, Union trailed 67-26. Murray State added a touchdown in the fourth to make the final 73-26.
Although the final tally was lopsided, there were lots of positives for the Bulldogs. Union showed great discipline with only three penalties for 21 yards. The Bulldogs gained nearly 300 yards, finishing with 293. Lastly, Union scored the most points ever against a NCAA FCS opponent.
"We came into this game with a couple of goals. The first one was to play with poise, composure and class. I give (the team) an A-plus on that," said Willis. "There were no personal fouls. We were complimented very highly by the (Ohio Valley Conference) officials because of our kids conduct. And it's tough when you're outmanned by an opponent. The other thing was I wanted our kids to never give up, and I felt our kids fought to the very end. I was very proud of them."
While its third-down conversion rate was only 25 percent (4 of 16), Union went a perfect 3-for-3 in fourth-down situations.
"When you're building a program, it's like building a house," Willis said. "A solid foundation is where everything starts, and with a football team, that foundation starts with discipline and mental toughness. And it takes a lot of discipline and mental toughness to face a far superior opponent and continue to give your best effort. Our kids did that and were very supportive of one another on the sideline."
Whittlesey finished the game completing 17-of-30 passes for 176 yards and one touchdown, while Anderson ran for 49 yards and two scores on 10 carries. Domonique Jefferson (SR/Lawrenceville, Ga.) hauled in six catches for 69 yards with Zack Martin (SO/Dawsonville, Ga.) and Anderson each collecting three receptions.
Defensively, Jake Johnston (JR/Melbourne, Ky.) led the way with 10 total tackles to go with 1.0 tackles for a loss. Jake Averhart (FR/Sumniton, Ala.) and Brandon Carr (SR/Reddick, Fla.) each finished with six total stops.
By the Numbers
- The 95-yard fumble recovery by Weeks is the longest in program history. The previous record was held by Marekus Smith, who returned an 85-yard fumble recovery against Shorter (Ga.) on Sept. 29, 2007.
- Jefferson became the seventh player to amass 100 career receptions. He currently is tied with P.J. Burrowes for sixth all-time with 101.
- Jefferson is now second all-time in receiving yards. With 69 more yards tonight, he now has 1,803 career receiving yards and only trails Pete Green's mark of 2,082.
- The 26 points is the most Union has ever scored against a NCAA FCS opponent. The previous high was 20, which came against Southeastern Louisiana in 2009.
Union is off until Sept. 13 when it travels to Faulkner (Ala.). Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. ET.