Unity cruises past Greenville into title game
TOLONO — Unity’s final football road trip will be its shortest.
And also, its most important.
The Rockets will make the 8.8-mile trek to Memorial Stadium on Friday to play in the state championship game for the fourth time in 13 years. They extended their season with an offensive explosion Saturday that resulted in a running clock against Greenville at Hicks Field.
Unity never punted and held possession for more than 35 of the game’s 48 minutes en route to a 56-21 Class 3A triumph.
With an estimated 3,700 spectators watching, the performance was “probably the best half offensively we’ve had all year,” senior receiver Micah Johnson said. “We had great play-calling, great execution, a great team effort.
The first six possessions brought back memories of a 2009 semifinal game between the schools when Unity outscored the Comets 58-53.
“It looked like a rematch of ’09,” Greenville coach Todd Hutchinson said.
Five of the teams’s combined first six possessions ended with TDs.
“We knew they had a good offense,” Unity quarterback Justin Deters said, “and we know we can score on anyone. When they came out and scored, we wanted to respond.”
Deters ran 32 yards to get Unity on the board and then hit Johnson in stride for a 51-yard scoring strike.
The Rockets broke a 14-14 tie on Conner Grace’s 5-yard run with 2:14 left in the first period. The third conversion kick by Cody Payne — who was 8 for 8 — put Unity ahead to stay, 21-14. The applause had hardly subsided when Michael Holliday picked off a Greenville pass and returned it 23 yards for the TD.
“Things were tight, and that pick-six definitely hurt us,” Hutchinson said.
The offense amassed 504 yards rushing (205 by Grace, the team’s only two-way starter), a total that was reduced by the junior varsity playing the entire fourth quarter.
The defense picked off five passes — returning two for scores — and Mitchell Snodgrass had his second two-pick game this season.
“We came out hot and stayed hot,” said Mitch Negangard, who had one of the interceptions as well as 170 of the rushing yards.
“They are in the championship game for a reason,” Hutchinson said. “They are pretty danged good. When a team has its running and passing going like that, it’s tough to defend. They did it in all three phases.”
Unity contained Cameron Walter — who had more than 2,200 yards coming in — to 23 yards on 12 first-half carries. He finished with 58 rushing yards, the majority after the running clock was in effect and Rocket coach Scott Hamilton had pulled his starters.
Eighteen seconds after Deters found Johnson on a 7-yard fourth-down scoring strike, building the Rockets’ lead to 35-14, Snodgrass raced 22 yards to the end zone with an interception return.
“It went through the receiver’s hands, and I was right there,” he said.
Unity converted another fourth-down play into points with 1:47 left in the half. Needing 3 yards for a first down, Negangard took the center snap and ran 12 to the end zone.
Unity’s halftime lead was 49-14, and the team secured the running clock less than three minutes into the third quarter. A nine-play, 84-yard march featured five double-digit runs, the last a 10-yard scamper by Negangard that pushed the margin above 40 points. The clock didn’t stop during the final 21 minutes, 8 seconds.
“We thought it would be hard-fought ’til the end,” Deters said.
“This was a bit of a shock,” Negangard said.
“We got things done today,” Johnson added.