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Union's rushing attack bowls past Festus in Class 4 quarterfinal

Union's rushing attack bowls past Festus in Class 4 quarterfinal

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Festus vs. Union football

Union's Gavin Wencker runs the ball during a Class 4 Quarterfinal football game against Festus on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020, at Union High School in Union, Mo. Randy Kemp | Special to

UNION — When Union senior Gavin Wencker gets near the goal line, he makes a pact with his offensive linemen.

“Every time we get down there, I tell them, just give me your all and I’m going to give you my all.” Wencker said. “If you give me some blocks, I’m going to punch it in.”

Wencker gained 105 yards rushing and punched it into the end zone a career-high five times Friday as Union defeated Festus 34-25 in a Class 4 football quarterfinal at Union High.

Union (7-4) advanced to play the winner of MICDS (5-0) and Hannibal (8-2) next week in a semifinal. Those teams play at 1 p.m. Saturday in a quarterfinal matchup.

Leading 20-19 heading into the fourth quarter, Wencker and junior Cameron Kriete led the march to the semifinal as the two backs churned out big yardage on a 13-play, 75-yard drive.

Kriete, who did not carry the ball at all for the first three quarters, carried it twice for 24 yards on the first two plays of the fourth quarter, setting up a 4-yard burst into the end zone by Wencker.

“I’ve never played running back other than a couple plays, but we needed somebody to step up due to an injury. I just live for the opportunity to show what I can do,” said Kriete, who gained 47 yards on seven carries, all in the fourth quarter.

After Festus (10-2) turned the ball over on downs, Kriete and Wencker again went to work on a nine-play, 63-yard touchdown drive. Wencker reeled off an explosive 21-yard run on third down, and sophomore quarterback Liam Hughes found Donavan Rutledge on a 28-yard slant pass to set up the fifth Wencker touchdown run — a 1-yard plunge that sealed the outcome.

“We knew it was going to be a close game, and we just had to turn up the switch, focus in and get it done,” Wencker said.

Union seemed focused from the opening possession as it unleashed a fast-paced offense on the opening drive. Led by Hughes, who went 3-for-3 passing and gained 19 yards rushing, the Wildcats capitalized on a 12-play drive that took barely three minutes off the clock. Wencker scored the first of his three first half rushing touchdowns on a 3-yard burst over left guard to put Union in the lead.

Mistakes slowed Festus in the opening quarter. The Tigers’ opening, 10-play drive was marred by three dropped passes, including one on fourth down to squash it completely. The defense joined in the mistake-filled start by taking a roughing-the-passer penalty on fourth-and-13, and Wencker shimmied around left end for a 15-yard touchdown to give Union a 13-point lead.

“It wasn’t our best night, but hats off to (Union). They had a very good game plan and they had us off-balance, especially early on,” Festus coach AJ Ofodile said.

But on the ensuing kickoff, senior Cayse Martin made his first big play to keep Festus in the game. He accepted the kick on the right sideline at his own 5-yard line, made a quick serpentine to the left and outraced the coverage down the left sideline for a 95-yard touchdown.

Union responded with a nine-play drive that was kept alive by a 23-yard middle screen from Hughes to Nick Birke on fourth-and-10 and was finished when Wencker plowed into the end zone for his third touchdown, a 7-yarder, to build the lead to 20-7.

Martin had another trick up his sleeve, or rather, on the ground. On a fourth-and-5, junior quarterback Cole Rickermann placed the ball on the turf and three players pretended they were running away with it. Martin scooped up the ball and raced around left end for a 20-yard touchdown run to cut the deficit to 20-13 at halftime.

“It’s a good, little wrinkle,” Ofodile said. “We ran it earlier in the year with the same success. It’s a visually deceptive trick and it’s off rhythm. We rolled with it and it worked.”

The Festus momentum carried into the second half when the Tigers mounted an eight-play, 64-yard touchdown drive on their opening possession, capped off by a 2-yard run by Cayden Glaze to cut the lead to one point.

But the next 15 plays run by Festus yielded only 32 yards, and the Union defense set up Wencker and the offense to close out the game in the fourth quarter.

Union, which had a 3-4 record after seven games, has now won four consecutive playoff games.

“We struggled at the beginning of the year putting it all together, but the last few weeks we’ve been trusting each other and getting it done,” senior defensive lineman Josh Meyer said.

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