Bad week of practice leads to shaky on field effort, coach Pat Clark says
By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com
EAST MARLBOROUGH — Pat Clark knew this was going to be a tough game — and that maybe for the first time all season, his Unionville High School football team wasn’t as mentally prepared as he’d liked when they took the field against Oxford Friday night.
“We practiced as poorly as we’ve practiced (this week) in seven years since I’ve been here,” Clark said after his Indians barely held off the Hornets, 24-21, Friday night.
In fact, were it not for a blocked field goal in the first quarter, 3-3 Unionville’s narrow hope of advancing to the state playoffs might have been snuffed out. The Hornets (1-5) took the opening kickoff right down the field as the Indians once again seemed to struggle in the opening minutes of a game. Unionville dodged an early bullet when a third down pass from quarterback Connor Hallenbach fell short and the Cody Hubley’s 28-yard field goal attempt was blocked.
Getting the ball back seemed to calm down Unionville, which after taking over on its own 41 after the block, quickly marched down and scored, largely on the running of senior quarterback Connor Gades, who scored from 40 yards out to make it 7-0 with the point after. After an exchange of punts, Gades led another long Indians drive — capping it with a three-yard run to make it 14-0 with the point after. A Norb Sax field goal — a 40-yarder — appeared to put Unionville in command, 17-0.
But Oxford wasn’t ready to quit — even if the early drive didn’t mean points, it built confidence on offense.
“Oxford is much improved,” Clark said. “They have a new staff and their kids play with tremendous effort and physically, they have some good looking kids. So they came out and wanted to establish themselves right away, and they did.”
Behind the passing of Hallenbach and the running Bradley Tinnin, Oxford climbed right back into the game. Hollenbach hit a wide open Thomas Sanchez with a 64-yard scoring pass and then on the next possession, halfback Geovanni Cruz — who’s also the backup QB for the Hornets — hit a long pass on a halfback option play to Hubley, setting up Tinnin’s TD run. Jimmy Gill managed to block the ensuing extra point attempt — and the Indians found themselves clinging to a 17-13 lead.
Mason Popham’s big return on the kickoff got Unionville in business — but it was a disputed call, one of a number of shaky calls by an officiating staff that appeared to lose control of the game — a personal foul call on Oxford on a play when Popham had appeared to have been stopped that gave Unionville new life. Popham managed to plunge in from one yard out — and Unionville had what appeared to be a safe 24-13 lead with 8:02 left in the game.
But Hollenbach would not be denied. He engineered a 14-play, 61 yard drive and got his Hornets back into striking distance. With a two-point conversion by Tinnin, Oxford was within 3 points with 3:10 remaining in the game.
Then Unionville offense couldn’t get moving on offense and gave it back to Oxford via punt with 2:39 to play — but then the Indian defense stiffened — and stopped the Hornets dead at midfield.
It may not have been pretty, but the win does keep Unionville in the postseason picture. But with Sun Valley looming next week — Clark thinks the win, and how difficult it was could change attitudes on his squad.
“Sun Valley beat these guys,” Clark said. “We have our work cut out for us. Winning will help with four or five different things: attitude and execution and stuff. We have to be better. This is not acceptable. Penalties, fumbles, mistakes, that is not acceptable.”