LA PORTE CITY — A virtual must win turned into a statement win for Union Community during Friday night’s district opener against Class 2A’s No. 4 Benton Community.
A Knights’ team that entered district play with as many wins as losses, took control of the line of scrimmage and made a handful of big plays en route to an eye-opening, 34-6 victory at Union High School.
The combination of a one-point loss to Charles City and a two-touchdown setback at Dike-New Hartford the past two weeks certainly added to the pressure on Union (3-2, 1-0) entering this district kickoff.
“We all felt and knew this was a very big game for us,” Union senior running back Kaleb Roach said after rushing for 138 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries. “This game could make or break our season. We knew we had to show up.
“We usually play a good four quarters, this game was a great four quarters. We competed the whole time, every time. Yeah, there were a few we gave up, but we were still going hard, flying everywhere like we could on defense.”
Members of a Union program that has reached at least the state semifinal round each of the previous two seasons knew the only automatic ticket to the playoffs this fall is a district championship. Benton (4-1, 0-1) presented one of the biggest obstacles to accomplishing that objective.
“We just felt like we had to keep fixing ourselves, and I was really happy with the way the kids responded this week,” Union coach Joe Hadachek said. “We said it’s a pivotal game. Realistically, the way the new thing (playoff qualification system) is, if you don’t win, three losses could be the end. We don’t control that. From here on out, the only guarantee is if you run the district. It’s a new season.”
Brayden Grosse complemented Roach in Union’s backfield with 115 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries as the Knights’ linemen controlled play on offense and defense. Roach sprinted 59 yards through a well-blocked hole up the middle on Union’s opening drive, and Grosse reversed field off a sweep and covered 51 yards on the second series to set up his 1-yard TD run.
“They had great physicality,” Roach said of his line. “All my holes were super big, straight up through the line. It’s much better when everyone can do their job, get it done and they know they’re getting it done.”
Union’s defense made Benton one-dimensional. The Knights held the visitors to 28 rushing yards on 24 carries. Benton quarterback Clayton Krousie completed 14 of 26 passes for 176 yards, but threw his first two interceptions of the season to Britton Rolison, who returned the second pick 35 yards for a second-quarter score.
Rolison also deflected a fourth-down pass away in the end zone and later sprinted 83 yards as a receiver on a screen pass to set up the Knights’ final score. Benton didn’t reach the end zone until a 58-yard reception by Nathan Michels, who caught six passes for 98 yards, set up a 1-yard Matthew Davis run with 5:31 remaining.
“Our coaches just put us in the right spot all week,” Rolison said. “We listened to them and practiced hard. They got us prepared for this game.”
Hadachek realizes Rolison, a 5-foot-5, 145-pound senior, adds a valuable playmaking dimension to his team.
“We’re blessed by him,” Hadachek said. “He’s a great individual, and a team guy. He does a lot of stuff. If you look at his height and weight, you’re laughing. If you watch him play, you’re going to be crying. The kid is legit.”
Union 34, Benton 6
Benton 0 0 0 6 — 6
Union 14 6 7 7 — 34
Union — Kaleb Roach 59 run ( Brayden Grosse run)
Union — Grosse 1 run (pass failed)
Union — Britton Rolison 35 interception return (kick failed)
Union — Grosse 1 run (Ben Dvorak kick)
Union — Roach 1 run (Dvorak kick)
Benton — Matthew Davis 1 run (kick failed)
First downs 7 11
Rushes-yards 24-28 42-262
Comp-att-int 14-26-2 3-9-1
Passing yards 176 101
Punts-avg 5-35.6 3-40.3
Fumbles-lost 0-0 1-1
Penalties-yards 5-43 4-45
BENTON — Matthew Davis 13-27, Clayton Krousie 6-minus 1, Jack Shaw 2-minus 4, Cade Timmerman 3-6.
UNION — Kaleb Roach 23-138, Brayden Grosse 10-115, Britton Rolison 5-24, Hunter Heitman 2-1, Team 1-minus 6, Bandon Tompkins 1-minus 10.
BENTON — Krousie 14-26-2, 176 yards.
UNION — Dylan Felderman 3-9-1, 101 yards.
BENTON — Nathan Michels 6-98, Jack Shaw 5-42, Jacob Thompson 1-24, Turner Schroeder 1-7, Davis 1-5.
UNION — Rolison 2-93, Bryce Parker 1-8.