RIMERSBURG - Sheffield had 12 more first downs and chewed up nearly twice as much yardage as Union in Thursday's District 9 football game at Union Area High School.
However, those weren't the stats that mattered in a 60-21 Wolverines loss.
More important were the 10 Sheffield turnovers - nine of them interceptions - and five defensive touchdowns scored by Union as the Wolverines had to settle for a 4-6 finish to the regular season.
Times Observer photo by Allen Seybert
Sheffield wide receiver Kwante Johnson jumps above a Union defender in an attempt to catch a pass during a District 9 football game between the schools Thursday at Union Area High School. Sheffield turned the ball over 10 times and surrendered five defensive touchdowns in a 60-21 setback.
The only good news on this night was that the season isn't finished. The Wolverines will play the undefeated Moniteau Warriors in the District 9 Class AA semifinals next Saturday at Clarion University. The game will reportedly mark Sheffield's first postseason appearance in football.
Union (7-3) is also postseason bound - for the first time in 26 years - and played like it in Thursday's thrashing. Despite only tallying five first downs and 163 total yards against a stout Sheffield defense, the Class A Golden Knights recorded four "pick sixes" and a fumble return for a score on defense. They were also able to take advantage of several short fields set up by other Wolverine turnovers.
The Wolverines won the toss and received the opening kickoff, but Ike Nearing's first pass of the evening was intercepted by the Union defense. Sheffield's defense forced a punt, but Nearing's second pass also found its way into the arms of Union's Brody Shick.
Shick raced 36 yards down the right sideline and into the end zone to give the hosts an early 6-0 edge. Sheffield's third pass of the night was also intercepted, giving the Golden Knights the ball at the Wolverine 25 and setting up a one-yard score from Austin Davis that made it 12-0.
The Wolverines made it through the next series without turning the ball over, but saw their punt blocked and recovered by Union at the Sheffield 39. On the very next snap, Golden Knights quarterback Taylor Smith hit Brody Pollock with a 39-yard touchdown strike that put Union up 18-0 with 3:46 left in the opening quarter.
Sheffield coach Bryan Gould inserted Shequan Wright into the quarterback role and the move initially paid off. Wright connected on three straight passes to set the Wolverines up with a first and goal at the Union three. Two plays later, George Fitch rumbled into the end zone to cut the lead to 18-7.
It would only take Union 89 seconds to respond as Smith tossed a 48-yard touchdown pass to Kaden McGregor to make it 26-7 Union after a quarter.
The turnover bug continued to bite Sheffield into the second quarter as McGregor returned a Wright interception 50 yards for a score on the first play of the second stanza. Less than three minutes later, Mikey Harris added a one-yard touchdown run that put the Golden Knights on top 39-7.
The Wolverines were able to move the ball throughout the evening and put together a nifty eight-play scoring drive on their next possession. Wright tossed his third touchdown pass of the season, hitting Nick Bonavita from 12 yards out to make it 39-13.
The first half scoring would end how it began - with a Union defensive touchdown. Wright hit Kalil Slaughter on a slant pattern and Slaughter lateraled to Evan Jamison, who began fighting for extra yardage. Jamison was stripped of the ball and Smith recovered for Union, racing 46 yards for a score to make it 46-13 at halftime.
Intermission did little to slow down Union as the Golden Knights added two more defensive touchdowns in the first five minutes of the second half.
First, Shick intercepted a pass and ran 56 yards for a score and later Darren Seary picked off a quick hitter and ran 42 yards to make it 60-13.
Sheffield was able to tally the final score of the night when Wright connected with Slaughter for a 26-yard touchdown pass with 3:54 remaining in the third.
Aside from throwing six interceptions, Wright was effective at quarterback. He completed 15-of-30 passes for 201 yards and a pair of scores. He also led the team in rushing with 44 yards on 10 carries. Jamison caught six balls for 59 yards, Slaughter had 54 receiving yards and a score and Bonavita and Kwante Johnson both caught three passes for 44 yards.
The running game failed to take hold all evening and in addition to Wright was led by the 28 yards of Fitch and the 24 yards of Brandon Johnston.
U- Brody Shick 36 INT return, 8:12, pass failed
U- Austin Davis 1 run, 5:32, pass failed
U- Taylor Smith to Brody Pollock 39 pass, 3:46, run failed
S- George Fitch 3 run, 1:40, Fitch kick
U- Smith to Kaden McGregor 48 pass, 0:11, Davis run
U- McGregor 50 INT return, 11:49, run failed
U- Mikey Harris 1 run, 8:51, Keenan Rankin kick
S- Shequan Wright to Nick Bonavita 12 pass, 4:20, run failed
U- Smith 46 fumble return, 0:44, Rankin kick
U- Shick 56 INT return, 7:48, Rankin kick
U- Darren Seary 42 INT return, 6:59, Rankin kick
S- Wright to Kalil Slaughter 26 pass, 3:54, Wright run
RUSHING-S- Shequan Wright 10 for 44, George Fitch 6 for 28, TD, Brandon Johnston 3 for 24, Kalil Slaughter 4 for 8, Brandon Kipp 1 for 5, Nick Bonavita 3 for 4, Dylan Smith 1 for -1, Ike Nearing 1 for -3; U- Austin Davis 10 for 34, TD, Mikey Harris 7 for 22, TD, Taylor Smith 4 for 14, Cody Kline 3 for 4
PASSING-S- Wright 15 of 30 for 201 yards, 2 TD, 6 INT, Ike Nearing 0 of 4 for 0, 3 INT, Tyler Fitzgerald 0 of 1 for 0; U- Smith 3 of 4 for 89, 2 TD
RECEIVING-S- Evan Jamison 6 for 59, Slaughter 3 for 54, TD, Bonavita 3 for 44, TD, Kwante Johnson 3 for 44; U- Brody Pollock 2 for 41, TD, Kaden McGregor 1 for 48, TD