TOLONO — Since fifth grade, Jared Abrahamson wanted to be a starter on Unity’s varsity football team.
Now a senior, the defensive end is not just a starter but also a big part of the success for a program that has qualified for the state finals for the fourth time since 2000.
Abrahamson had a team-high six tackles Saturday at Hicks Field as the Rockets blitzed Greenville 56-21 in a Class 3A semifinal showdown.
Unity’s defensive front, Hamilton said, “is the key to our success. No one understands how easy they make it for our linebackers. They’ve been awesome all year long.”
Joining Abrahamson in the trenches are Anthony Vasquez and rotating nose tackles Logan Sehie and Tyler Crowl.
“We’ve put in the hard work, and we’re reaping the rewards from it,” Abrahamson said. “It has taken a lot of dedication.”
During the preseason, Hamilton thought Unity had the potential to make a deep run.
He was less certain as the year progressed.
“I knew we had the ability to play at a high level,” Hamilton said, “but if you’d asked me in Week 4 or 5, when we were beat up, I’m not sure I would have said it then.”
After dispatching the Comets, Unity has run off 10 consecutive victories.
“The coaches and the kids prepped hard this week,” he said. “This was a good day.”
Unity shook off a slow start. Greenville took the opening kickoff and drove 63 yards on eight plays, the biggest were passes for 32 and 27 yards.
Before the Rockets’ offense had the ball, Unity trailed 7-0.
“As I put my helmet on (to take the field), I said, ‘Let’s respond,’ ” Unity receiver Micah Johnson said. “We had to answer.”
It was imperative, Hamilton said, for the offensive unit to do something on its first possession. A game-tying touchdown was just a bonus.
“They had the wind and it was most important to move the ball and control it a little bit,” Hamilton said. “We did a good job up front.”
Defensively, Abrahamson set the tone from the outset. Greenville’s first play from scrimmage was a run that lost yards. Abrahamson made the tackle. The Comets’ 2,220-yard rusher, senior Cameron Walter, was held in check.
“We didn’t do a lot with Walter,” Greenville coach Todd Hutchinson said.
That was Hamilton’s plan.
“The key was stopping their back,” he said. “Once we shut No. 42 (Walter) down, things snowballed a little. Our interior seven did their jobs and made them one-dimensional.”
The Rockets realize there’s work to do. The team had two touchdowns nullified by penalties. One came on a possession they fumbled the ball away.
“We ran the ball hard,” said Conner Grace, who gained 205 yards on his 20 carries, “but we kept getting penalties.”
The last thing Unity expected was a runaway win, especially on the heels of a quarterfinal game that wasn’t settled until Cody Payne’s field goal at the buzzer was good.
“In the semis, every team deserves to be where they’re at,” Grace said. “I never expected a big win.”
Unity has reached double figures in wins four straight years and 11 times in Hamilton’s 19-year tenure. And yet, Grace heard questions during the summer about how good Unity’s team would be.
“A lot of people doubted us in the offseason and we used that as fire,” Grace said.
Quarterback Justin Deters completed 3 of 8 passes against Greenville and eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the season. Entering the state finals, he has thrown for 1,049 yards.
“We were mentally focused and confident,” Deters said. “This was probably one of our best team games of the year. We were firing off the ball.”
Hamilton is hoping for a repeat. “We’re looking forward to our opportunity next week,” he said.