Back in Black: Bulldogs Bulldoze Bears, 63-35
Published 6:00 pm Monday, October 23, 2017
BARBOURVILLE, Ky. — It was a magical night for Union College as it rolled to a 63-35 Mid-South Conference (MSC) Appalachian victory over visiting Pikeville on Saturday.
The excitement began when the Bulldogs came out for the game donning black jerseys for the first time in few seasons.
“I don’t know if it was the black jerseys that helped us out or not,” said head coach Andre Linn. “Our guys have been asking for black jerseys since I took over as head coach, and I said if I can get them, I’ll give them to the team on a special day and just see what happens.”
Fans were unaware of the new jerseys as the Bulldogs (3-4 overall, 1-2 MSC Appalachian) warmed up in their tradition orange home uniforms on homecoming. But when the team came out for kickoff, Union was dressed in black from head to toe.
Wherever the energy surge came from can long be debated, but the result was left on the field. The 63 points are tied for fifth-most in program history, and the 722 yards in total offense are the most by the Bulldogs since racking up 854 in an 84-55 win over Bethel on Oct. 9, 2010.
“It all starts with our offensive line,” Linn said. “When they give our quarterback time to throw and if they give us holes to run through, we are capable of things like this. They’ve done a great job all year, and they’re key to the whole thing.”
Alex Bell put together another impressive performance in the pocket, completing 22-of-30 passes for 334 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran 71 yards on eight carries and was not tackled for a loss on the night.
“Alex has been a leader for us all year. He understands our offense, and I think coach (Jacob) Russell has helped him out a lot and made him mature more this year,” Linn said of Bell.
Meanwhile, Izayah Riettie had a career night with 184 yards rushing and four touchdowns on 18 carries. His output ties him for the 11th-best rushing night in program history. Current assistant coach Brian Clark also ran for 184 yards in a game against Bluefield on Oct. 19, 2013.
“He’s always done a good job, and he’s stuck with it,” Linn said of Riettie. “There’s been a lot of times when there wasn’t anything there and he’s just creating stuff. Today, he had faith in the offensive line and made it happen.”
Samondre Johnson posted his first career 100-yard game with 112 and a score on a 14 attempts. The freshman’s previous high was 17 yards.
Union punted on its very first possession of the game, but then it scored on each of its next 10 in seizing control of the game.
The teams traded touchdowns in the first quarter, as it was 14-all after the opening 15 minutes. Union took its first lead early in the second when Bell hit Cody Johnson for a 13-yard scoring pass for a 20-14 lead with 11:03 to go in the half.
Pikeville (4-4 overall, 2-2 MSC Appalachian) answered with a Sani Warren 20-yard touchdown pass to Arites Clark. The PAT gave the Bears a 21-20 lead with 8:14 on the clock.
Union scored the next 16 points to take the lead for good. Derek Burgett booted a 30-yard field goal to put the Bulldogs up 23-21 at the 4:56 mark. Then, with 13 seconds left in the half, Bell found Darian Patterson for a 16-yard scoring play to take a 30-21 lead into the break.
Riettie opened the second half with his third touchdown of the night with a 6-yard plunge, making it 36-21 with 12:58 still to go in the third.
The Bears cut the margin to 36-28 on another Clark touchdown reception, but the Bulldogs accounted for the next three scores to open up a 56-28 lead with 12:38 to play in the game. Union’s scores came on a Riettie 41-yard run, an 83-yard pass to Tyler Toombs, and a Johnson 2-yard run.
Each team scored another touchdown in the fourth to make the final 63-35 Union.
While it surrendered 536 yards in total offense and 35 points, the Bulldog defense came up big when it needed to. Union forced the game’s lone turnover, and it came, as Pikeville was about to score.
The Bears moved the ball 86 yards to the Bulldog 4 when Justavious Robinson forced and recovered a fumble, returning it to the 15.
“They were opportunistic today. They made it happen when we needed a stop,” Linn said. “They play hard, and they’re getting better. We’re very banged up on defense. The guys are playing as hard as they can, and that’s all I can ask for.”
Robinson finished with eight total tackles with two tackles for a loss, a sack, two forced fumbles and one recovery. As a unit, Union recorded six tackles for a loss of 17 yards and two sacks. The Bulldogs also broke up seven passes with Triquece Ware coming up with three.
Union travels to Bluefield for another MSC Appalachian tilt on Saturday. Last year, the Bulldogs defeated the Rams on the road 7-0, scoring in the final minutes of the contest. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.