BARBOURVILLE, Ky. - Union College reeled 34 unanswered, second-half points, but it wasn't enough as No. 9 UVa-Wise held on for the 42-37 Mid-South Conference East victory Saturday.
The Bulldogs (2-7 overall, 0-3 MSC East) trailed 35-3 at the half and was down 42-3 with 12:53 to play in the third before rallying back, nearly pulling off the upset.
In the loss, senior quarterback Joey Waters (McDonough, Ga.) continued to rewrite the Union record book as he set both single-game and season-season records for most passing yardage. He competed 33-of-57 passes for 434 yards, marking the first time in school history a player has thrown for over 400 yards in game. The previous record was 396 yards, set by Lee Worley against Georgetown (Ky.) College in 1993. It was also the fourth time Waters had thrown for more than 300 yards this season.
With the 434-yard passing performance, Waters broke the single-season passing record as he now has 2,397 yards to eclipse the Stanley Niece's mark of 2,373 set during the 2000 season. Waters also became the first player to pass for more than 2,000 yards in two different seasons having done so previously in 2005. He now has 7,061 career passing yards.
Waters also had three touchdowns, giving him 20 on the season - one shy of the single-season record.
The game was definitely a tale of two halves. In the first half, everything seemed to go UVa-Wise's way, while the tide turned in favor of Union in the second half.
The Cavaliers (8-1 overall, 3-0 MSC East) scored on all five of its first-half possessions en route to a 35-3 advantage. All five drives were 65 yards or longer, yet UVa-Wise didn't burn much time off the clock as it controlled the ball for just 12 minutes and 46 seconds in the first half.
Union, on the other hand, struggled. Twice, the Bulldogs turned the ball over on downs in Cavalier territory. Union creeped into the red zone twice in the first half but only managed three points as it trailed 35-3 at the break.
As the second got underway, it looked bleak for the Bulldogs as kicker James Hager (Micanopy, Fla.) muffed the opening kickoff as the Cavaliers took over on the Union 36. Seven plays later, Randy Hippeard hooked up with Jason Lovett for the fourth time on the afternoon for a 29-yard scoring pass as the lead swelled to 42-3 with 12:53 to play in the third.
But then, Union began to slowly crawl back into the game.
Taking advantage of back-to-back fumbles on kick returns, the Bulldogs scored twice within a minute and 25 seconds to make it 42-17 with 6:34 to go in the third. Union's first touchdown came on an 11-yard pass to Shawn Kelly (Owenton, Ky.), while Terence Pollock (Orange Park, Fla.) scampered 19 yards for the second touchdown.
After UVa-Wise turned the ball over on downs, Pollock capped a seven-play, 81-yard drive with a two-yard plunge to make it 42-24 with 1:56 remaining in the third.
The Cavaliers again turned the ball over on downs, giving the Bulldogs the ball on their own 37. Seven plays later, Waters hit Kelly for a 25-yard scoring strike to make it 42-30 with 13:00 left in the game. The PAT was blocked.
UVa-Wise's defense then stepped up, picking off Waters on Union's next two possessions. Jahmal Potter and Ryan Vanover came up with the interceptions.
Not ready to give up, Union mounted a 14-play, 85-yard scoring drive to cut the deficit to 42-37 with 1:50 to play. Waters hit Kyle Callahan (Covington, Ky.) for a 7-yard strike for the score.
Union attempted an onside kick, but UVa-Wise recovered it on the Union 41. The Bulldogs came close to get the ball back as the Cavaliers faced third down and 7 to go at Bulldog 27. However, Bruce McMullen broke a tackle behind the line of scrimmage and reeled off 22 yards for a first down, sealing the five-point win for UVa-Wise as Union was out of timeouts with under a minute to play.
Statistically, Union posted better numbers in nearly every category except the most important one - the final score. The Bulldogs outgained the Cavailers 565-494 in total offense. In addition to Waters throwing for 434 yards, Union rushed for 131 yards as Pollock posted his third 100-yard game of the season with 111 yards and two scores on 24 carries. He now ranks sixth on the all-time rushing list with 1,289 career yards.
Pollock also caught four passes for 42 yards. Add that with this rushing total and his 78 return yards, Pollock finished with 231 all-purpose yards.
With Waters having a big day, so did Callahan and Kelly as they were Waters' favorite targets. Callahan hauled in eight passes for 149 yards and a touchdown, while Kelly caught seven balls for 90 yards and two scores.
Defensively, Patrick O'Neal (Lula, Ga.) led the way with 11 total tackles to go along with a half tackle for a loss and a pass breakup. He now has 108 tackles on the season, marking the second year in a row he has reached that plateau.
Defensive linemen Arthur Johnson (New Smyrna Beach, Fla.) and Colby Wilson (Livermore, Ky.) each had solid outings. Johnson had six tackles and five quarterback hurries, while Wilson recorded two tackles, a half tackle for a loss and four quarterback hurries. Jeremy Agbomi (Cincinnati, Ohio) broke up five passes and recovered a fumble to go along with his four tackles.
For UVa-Wise, Hippeard completed 28-of-49 passes for 434 yards and five touchdowns. Lovett hauled in 10 passes for 161 yards and four scores, while Matt Barbour caught six for 91 yards. Aric Evans had four receptions for 82 yards and touchdown.
The Cavaliers had to go without leading rusher Ra'Shad Morgan, who was injured, and it showed in their running game as they gained just 60 yards on the ground. McMullen's 43 yards led the way with Jyron Barclay adding 33 yards and score.
Gio Watford and Ben Robertson had 14 and 13 total tackles, respectively, for UVa-Wise. Watford also forced a fumble and broke up three passes, while Robertson had 2.5 tackles for a loss. Reggie Dorsainvil recorded 3.0 sacks as part of his eight tackles.
Union returns to action next Saturday when it plays host to West Virginia Tech at 1:30 p.m.