BARBOURVILLE, Ky. - An
explosive first quarter and a solid defensive effort proved to be the
winning combination for Union on Saturday as the Bulldogs recorded their
third win in a row with a 34-15 Mid-South Conference West victory over
visiting Belhaven (Miss.).
Union (5-3 overall, 2-1 MSC West) stormed out of the gates and built a 20-0 lead by the 5:25 mark in the first quarter, while the Bulldog defense kept the Blazers (3-5 overall, 0-4 MSC West) at bay in limiting the visitors to 307 yards in total offense and forcing three turnovers.
"Our defense really stepped up and played well today," said Union coach Tommy Reid. "They came up with some big stops and created turnovers. I'm really proud of how the defense played."
Defensively, Zach Eagler (Florence, Ky.) led the way with 10 total tackles to go along with a forced fumble and a quarterback hurry. Jowann Peterson (Cincinnati, Ohio) and Chris Bethel (Allensville, Ohio) each had nine stops with Bethel also breaking up a pass.
In addition to forcing three turnovers, the Bulldog defense recorded four sacks and 11 tackles for a loss.
The three-game win streak is the first for Union since it closed out the 2008 regular season with three victories.
While Union's offense came out firing on all cylinders, Belhaven struggled to get going as it went three-and-out on its first three possessions. The Blazers did not collect a first down until after the Bulldogs owned a 20-0 cushion.
Armond Smith (Stone Mountain, Ga.) recorded his third 100-yard rushing game in a row and fourth of the season as he ran for 109 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries. On the season, Smith has 950 rushing yards, needing only 50 more to become the fourth player in Union history to amass 1,000 yards in a season. He owns 978 career rushing yards and needs only 22 more to be the 10th Bulldog to post 1,000 in a career.
Rob Brown (Daytona, Fla.) helped out with his first career 100-yard rushing game, finishing with 105 yards on 14 carries. Earlier this season, Brown posted a 100-yard receiving game.
The Bulldogs drew first blood when Sean Mackey (Reddick, Fla.) hauled in a 13-yard pass from Mike Brinkley (Anthony, Fla.), capping a four-play, 59-yard drive. The PAT was no good, leaving it 6-0 with 12:52 still to go in the opening period.
On its next possession, Union orchestrated an eight-play, 52-yard scoring march as Smith scored the first of his three touchdowns on a 1-yard run to up the margin to 13-0 with 9:05 left in the first.
After a Belhaven fumble, Brinkley hit P.J. Burrowes (Middlesboro, Ky.) for a 42-yard touchdown pass to give Union a 20-0 lead with 5:25 left in the first.
The Bulldog offense sputtered in the second quarter, failing to crack the scoring column. Meanwhile, Belhaven broke through with a 21-yard touchdown pass to Cordario Calvin to pull within 20-7.
It remained a 13-point game until midway through the third quarter when the Blazers collected a safety, making it a 20-9 contest. Belhaven punter Jacob Chancelor boomed a 73-yard punt to pin Union on its own 1. On the very next play, Brinkley was called for intentionally grounding, and since he was in the end zone when the penalty occurred, the Blazers were awarded a safety.
Belhaven tried to cut into the deficit even more, attempting a 47-yard field goal. However, Bert Brown (Daytona, Fla.) blocked James Bryan's kick, giving Union the ball on its own 30.
Brown finished the game with six total tackles and three pass breakups to go along with the blocked kick.
The Bulldogs then marched 70 yards in seven plays to extend their lead to 27-9. Smith capped the scoring drive with a 20-yard touchdown run with 1:16 left in the third.
With 13:25 remaining in the game, Kevin Dizer hauled in a 5-yard touchdown pass from Alex Williams to bring Belhaven within 27-15. The Blazers went for 2, but Williams was sacked on the conversion attempt.
Smith closed the door on any Blazer hope for a comeback with a 5-yard touchdown run, stretching the lead to 34-15 with 6:08 to play.
Union outgained Belhaven 459-307 with the Bulldogs racking up 241 yards rushing on 46 attempts. Brinkley finished the game having completed 15-of-31 for 216 yards and two touchdowns. For the first time in six games, Union did not have a 100-yard receiver as Burrows led the Bulldogs with four catches for 70 yards and a touchdown.
Union returns to action Saturday when it travels to Cumberland (Tenn.) for another MSC West clash. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. Eastern.