BARBOURVILLE, Ky. - The Bulldog defense came up big and jump-started the team as Union notched a 24-17 Mid-South Conference East victory over visiting Kentucky Christian on Saturday.
The win improves Union to 3-5 overall and 2-1 in the MSC East, while KCU falls to 3-5 overall and 2-2 in league play.
"We made so many big plays at crucial times on defense, offense and special teams," said Union coach Tommy Reid. "I'm just glad to see our kids to continue play with confidence no matter what.
"I'm just excited for the kids. They fought hard for 60 minutes and came up with the 'W'."
Union's offense could not find its rhythm in the first half, and the Bulldogs found themselves down 10-0 late in the second quarter when the defense stepped up with a big play. Facing third-and-15 from the KCU 28, Isaac Brabson tried to hit a receiver in the middle of the field but hit Union's Michael Lowder instead. Picking off the pass at the Union 48, Lowder weaved his way down the field and found the end zone, pulling the Bulldogs within 10-7 with 1:15 left in the half.
That appeared to be the spark the Bulldogs needed as they opened the second half with the ball, marching 64 yards in seven plays to take their first lead of the game. Chandler Whittlesey converted two third-down plays by hitting Domonique Jefferson for 12- and 34-yard pass plays. The latter put Union on the KCU 3, where Whittlesey ran the ball in for a touchdown. After the PAT, Union led 14-10 with 12:10 to go in the third.
The Bulldogs scored again on their next possession. Again, the Whittlesey-Jefferson connection came up big on third down. On third-and-5 from the Union 43, the freshman quarterback hit Jefferson for a 33-yard pass to move Union to the KCU 24. Leonard Dixon took the next snap and ran it in for his fifth rushing touchdown of the year, upping the Bulldogs' lead to 21-10 with 8:15 to go in the third.
Things continued to go Union's way as the fourth quarter got underway as Alex Sigmon extended the lead to 24-10 with a 32-yard field goal with 9:48 to play.
However, the Knights were not about to go away quietly. On its ensuing possession, KCU converted two fourth-and-6 situations with the later resulting a 10-yard touchdown pass from wide receiver Marcus Hicks to quarterback Brabson. After the extra point, Union's lead was down to 24-17 with 6:59 to play.
Both defenses then stepped up their games as KCU forced Union into two three-and-outs and the Bulldogs forcing one three-and-out.
After the Bulldogs' last three-and-out, Sigmon came up huge as he booted a 40-yard punt to force KCU to start on its own 4 with 1:40 to play.
The Knights appeared undaunted by the tough field position as it methodically moved the ball up to their own 37 with under a minute to play. Facing second-and-2 at the 37, Brabson looked to go deep, but all he found was Lowder once more. The Bulldog free safety intercepted the ball at the Union 44 and returned 41 yards to the KCU 15 with 48 seconds remaining.
With no timeouts remaining, the Knights were forced to watch the Bulldogs take a knee twice, sealing the 24-17 Union victory.
Lowder finished the game with five total tackles, two interceptions and one pass deflection which was made at the Union 1-yard line. He ended the day with 93 return yards.
As a unit, the Bulldog defense made 8.0 tackles for a loss of 51 yards with 2.0 sacks. A trio of Bulldogs recorded double-digit tackles with Ryan Shipley leading the way with 14. Derrick Brown had 11 with Chris Pinnock posting 10. Shipley also had three quarterback hurries.
KCU outgained Union 281-274 in total offense for the game, but the Bulldogs outgained the Knights 195-100 in the second half.
Whittlesey and Dixon each rushed for 54 yards and a touchdown, while Whittlesey completed 10-of-22 passes for 161 yards. Jefferson caught six of those passes for 133 yards.
"We knew we had some challenges ahead of us today with how good their defenses plays, but our kids came through and made some plays," Reid said. "Chandler played well, and Domonique came up huge. He's a tough kid to guard."
For the Knights, Jamuel Jones led the ground game with 99 yards on 15 carries, while Brabson threw for 140 yards in completing 13-of-30 passes.
By the Numbers
- Lowders pick-6 is the third defensive score by the Bulldogs this season. Alonzo Collins returned an interception for a touchdown, and Pinnock returned a fumble for a score.
- After his performance today, Jefferson has 84 career receptions to put him 13th on the all-time list. He also has 1,510 career receiving yards to place him eighth in program history.
- The 274 yards in total offense is the fewest Union has been held to all year. The previous low was 312 against Webber International (Fla.).
- The 281 yards in total offense is the fewest Union has held an opponent all season. The Bulldogs limited UVa-Wise to 283 on Sept. 28.
- After only having the ball for 10:45, Union ended up winning the time of possession battle, holding the ball for 30:18.
Union remains at home next week and will welcome No. 20 Lindsey Wilson (Ky.) to Burch/Nau Field for another MSC East showdown. Kickoff is set for 1:30 p.m.