This week, Union Grove has received many forms of congratulations after claiming the program’s first playoff berth in almost five decades.
The team has even gotten feedback from Glyn Johnston, the namesake of UG’s stadium who coached the Lions to their last postseason appearance in 1968.
“We’ve also had our superintendent come in and talk,” coach Roger Adams said. “There were school board members who wrote us letters. The kids understand what we accomplished this year.”
Union Grove (5-4, 3-2) earned the berth with a 34-6 win against Winona in a District 10-2A Division II matchup last week. The Lions complete the regular season against unbeaten Garrison at home Friday night and meet either Hughes Springs (9-0) or Waskom (9-0) in bi-district at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 14, in Hallsville.
Union Grove had its biggest celebration in 45 years on the field following the clinching win, but the magnitude of the accomplishment really set in the next day.
“It finally hit me Saturday afternoon what happened,” Adams said. “But we know we have a big task ahead.
“I really feel like with the success we’ve had this year the kids are really enjoying it. They know how hard work and dedication has gotten us here.”
Union Grove finished 2-8 last season but had “a good group of kids coming back,” Adams said.
“When you finish 2-8, it’s kind of disheartening but you look to the future and hope better things come,” Adams said. “The kids have bought into what we’re trying to do. We are reaping the benefits from their hard work.”
The Lions are set to finish fourth in district — behind Garrison, Arp and Frankston — in the first year that four teams qualify in 2A Division II.
“With the UIL letting four teams into the playoffs, we know that’s a big part of it compared to last year when only three teams made it,” Adams said. “You can’t blame us for what the UIL has decided and we are tickled to be in this spot.”
In the victory against Winona, Garrett Gibson and Tristen Thompson played key roles in helping the Lions build a 19-0 halftime lead and cruise in the second half. Gibson accounted for five touchdowns (four rushing and one passing) and Thompson finished with 108 yards rushing and 80 yards passing.
The Lions have received major contributions from other players this season in their new spread offense, plus have come up big defensively in giving up only 10 points per game in back-to-back wins.
Thompson has 119 carries for 758 yards and six touchdowns, plus has completed 42 of 77 passes for 439 yards. Fellow junior Corey Sturrock has 113 carries for a team-high 768 yards and six TDs and Gibson has 94 carries for 491 yards and eight TDs.
“The kids perform hard and play hard and are behind each other,” Adams said. “They are a band of brothers who’ve grown closer as the year has gone on.”