COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – When Union City head football coach Darren Bowling was in college he had a pretty nice gig playing the drums in a band led by some guy named Tim McGraw.
McGraw, now a country music superstar, went on to collect gold records.
Bowling is content with collecting gold balls on top of trophies with the inscription STATE CHAMPIONS on them.
Bowling’s Union City squad withstood an absolute incredible late Tyner drive that forced what turned out to be double overtime and won his fourth TSSAA state title with a scintillating 27-21 victory over the heartbroken Rams in Friday’s 2A BlueCross championship here on the Tennessee Tech campus
“He (McGraw) has done well, but I’m happy with where I am,” Bowling said after the game.
The Golden Tornadoes (13-2) controlled the title tilt in a way that was part genius and part cruel. The high-flying Rams (12-3) offense was limited to 41 offensive plays thanks to Union City’s three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust offense. Union City ran 72 offensive plays, converted 5-of-7 fourth down attempts and had everyone believing it left its punter on the bus.
“We knew what they did, and they did it well today,” said Tyner coach Wayne Turner.
Added Ram quarterback Jaylen Bowens: “It was frustrating. We had a hard time getting in any rhythm.”
Union City limited the Rams to just three possessions in the first half with its time-consuming Veer offense. Lou Holtz would have been proud. The Golden Tornadoes ran 40 plays – all rushes – to the Rams 13 in the first half and the fact Tyner was still in the game was perhaps the most positive thing going for them. Union City possessed it 18:44 to Tyner’s 5:16 in the half.
Union City took the opening kickoff and made its intentions known early. Until the Rams could stop it, the Golden Tornadoes were going to be absolutely content with three and four yard gains at a time. It was as the old saying goes: death by a thousand cuts.
The Golden Tornadoes used nine plays to cover 62 yards on their opening drive. Fullback Trey Jones scored from the three and it was 7-0 following Jaden Woods’ PAT. The Rams initial drive stalled and Union City went right back to work, going 94 yards this time on 14 plays. Quarterback Braxton Waddell kept it for an 11-yard score and it was 14-0.
On that second drive, it brazenly went for it on a fourth-and-3 play at its own 34 and converted. And anyone who thought Union City was riverboat gambling it got a firm reminder of why it was important to limit Tyner’s offensive touches.
The Rams used just four plays to cover 75 yards when they got their hands on it again. Jeremy Elston ripped off a 33-yard scoring run, but the point after was blocked and Tyner went to the dressing room still in it at 14-6 despite running just 13 plays in the half to Union City’s 40.
Tyner’s defense fared much better in the second half, twice getting stops on fourth down including one on fourth-and-goal that gave them the ball back with 7:32 left in the game. The Rams managed to drive it all the way down to the Union City 32, but an incomplete pass ended the threat and the game looked done with 2:00 left.
“I knew we would get it back. I had confidence we would get it back and I kept telling the guys we were going to get another chance,” said Elston.
The Rams forced the first punt of the game and with 1:05 left put together a magical drive that whisked them 66 yards in four plays. Bowens completed three straight passes, the final of which Jeremiah Batiste leapt high behind the defender and fell into the end zone with 14 seconds left in the game.
“I knew if I could get it him, he would win it,” Bowens said.
“Coach T just kept saying make a play, make a play. When it was up in the air, I didn’t see anything but the football and I didn’t hear anything. I just went up and when I landed everything went back to normal,” said Batiste, who caught two passes for 43 yards.
Tyner was then forced to go for the two-point conversion, and as magical as the TD drive was, what Bowens came up with was Sports Center Top 10er. Bowens took the snap with Batiste lined up on the far right. The Ram QB was forced to scramble to his left, avoided a total of five defenders, and just as everything was closing on him lofted a ball into the end zone where Batiste cradled it amongst the defenders to tie it at 14-14.
“I just wanted to find a soft spot somewhere. I ran from one side of the end zone to the other and JB (Bowens) kept it alive long enough for me to find that soft spot,” added Batiste.
Union City got the ball first in overtime and needed just two plays before Trey Jones bullied it in from the 2. The extra point put the ball in Tyner’s court down 21-14. Bowens answered with a third-down pass to a wide open Elston and Luke Qualey knocked the extra point through to send it to a second OT.
Tyner had the ball first, but an interception in the end zone – the game’s only turnover – gave the ball to Union City with the chance to win it. Waddell faked a handoff and kept it to the outside, diving into the end zone to end the 10-yard run, and the game belonged to Union City.
“When you give the ball to the fullback as many times as we do, I just felt like it might catch them by surprise, and it did,” said Waddell.
Jones, the fullback, wound up with 44 carries for 188 rushing yards. He alone ran the ball three more times than the 41 plays Tyner ran from scrimmage for the day. The victory avenged Union City’s loss to Tyner in the state finale 20 years ago in a game that was every bit the classic as this one was.
“It was quite game. I hate that it ended the way it did, but our kids never gave up. They had so much pride and put in so much work. This is a special bunch and one I will never forget. I tip my hat to Union City, but it doesn’t take anything away from these guys,” said Turner afterwards.
Elston finished with 80 yards on 10 carries and Bowens was 6-of-14 passing for 97 yards. The Golden Tornadoes never even faked a pass, running it 72 times for 323 yards and winning the time of possession 33:00 to 15:00. Tyner had one possession in the first quarter, two in the second, one in the third and two in the final period.
“It’s a good game plan on their part. I know our kids were frustrated, but they never let it get to them. They fought throughout and that was a heck of drive they put together to tie it. That drive said all you need to know about these kids,” Turner added.
It was a classic game and perhaps the former drummer put it best as he walked away from his last interview.
“It’s a shame someone had to lose the game. They play really hard for their coach and I know he is proud of them. I would be. This one is special because it’s our first 2A title, but also because of the game. Double overtime, wow … it doesn’t get better than that,” Bowling smiled.
UNIOIN CITY 27, TYNER 21 (2 OT)
Union City Tyner
First Downs 21 13
Rushing 72-323 26-124
Passing 0 97
TOTAL 323 221
Passes 0-0-0 6-15-1
Punt 1-31.0 3-49.3
Fumbles 0-0 1-0
Penalties 4-45 2-15
Rushing: Trey Jones 44-188, Braxton Waddell 14-63, Kaleb Craig 6-49, Conner Hurt 7-31 (UC); Jeremy Elston 10-80, Jaylen Bowens 8-39, Rah’le High 3-13 (T)
Passing: Jaylen Bowens 6-14-1 97 yards, Martavious Ryals 0-1-0 0 (T)
Receiving: Jeremy Elston 3-46, Jeremiah Batiste 2-43, Ke’un Webb 1-6 (T)
Tackles: Kaleb Craig 6-6 12, Tyler Bowling 4-2 6, Grant Kizer 3-2 5 (UC); Kamden Edwards 12-1 13, Jaylen Bowens 10-1 11, Tracey Justice 7-4 11, Deandre Williams 6-5 11
(Contact James Beach at firstname.lastname@example.org)