Tigers poised to capture semifinal win


Union County coach Ronny Pruitt wants his team to add another state title to the school's resume.

Illustration by Jon McDonald
Published: Thursday, December 1, 2011 at 9:50 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, December 1, 2011 at 9:50 p.m.

On the field house adjacent to Union County's football stadium, there is a picture of a tiger with the state championship years of 1994, 1995 and 1996 listed below.

The painting of the Tigers' three consecutive Class 3A state titles of the mid-90s clearly displays the football tradition of the Lake Butler school.

This year's Union County team looks to take another step in its state title quest as it travels to Monticello Jefferson County for tonight's Class 1A state semifinals. It is Union County's first state semifinal appearance since 2004 and coach Ronny Pruitt's Tigers are looking to reach their first state championship game since 2003.

"We have that wall up there and it has those three years for the state titles and we tell the kids we are living off the past," said Pruitt, whose Hawthorne team defeated Jefferson County on its way to the 2009 Class 1B state semifinals. "Some people fear us because of what we have done in the past.

"That is not what we have done, we want our year up there and they are not going to stop until we get our year up there."

Union County, Class 1A's No. 1 team at 11-0, has been fueled by its active 4-4 defense this fall. The Tigers have posted two shutouts and are giving up just 8.2 points per game. Led by defensive tackle Carl Alexander (89 tackles) and linebackers Kendall Wright (eighth in the area with 121 tackles) and Cory Houck (second in the area with 146 tackles), UC's defense faces its toughest test of the season.

"They are going to be fast enough that if you catch them out of position, they can make up for it," Pruitt said. "They are the type of team that can take it to the house on one play at anytime."

Defensive coordinator Steve Hoard, who was an assistant coach during the Tigers' state title years, has watched his unit gave up more than 20 points in a game just once this season. But Jefferson County blanked Hawthorne 38-0 in the regional semifinals, before blasting previously unbeaten Trenton 56-19 in last week's regional final. Jefferson County, also called the Tigers, is 7-5 this season, having played a challenging schedule. All five of its losses have come to playoff teams, three of which (Madison County, Tallahassee North Florida Christian and Crawfordville Wakulla) are still alive.

Senior running back Alphonso Footman and his younger brother, quarterback Lenorris Footman lead a Jefferson County offense that lines ups in a variety of formations and has averaged 27.2 points per game. Senior defensive end Denzel Whitfield anchors a defense that has given up 23.3 points per game.

Trenton coach Andrew Thomas, who saw first hand last week how good Jefferson County is, likes Union County's chances.

"As far as any team that could match up with Jefferson County physically and speed-wise, it is definitely Union County," Thomas said. "We didn't play very well, but Union County has people, especially on the defensive side, that could make it tough on Jefferson County, more than what we could do."

Walter Mabrey (769 rushing yards, 10 TDs), Prince Alexander (816 yards, six TDs), Daquin Edwards (674 yards, six TDs) and Josh Tyson (654 yards, nine TDs) ignite Union County's Wing-T rushing attack. It is a safe bet that Jefferson County will be geared on stopping the run which could mean additional opportunities for quarterback Austin Harden (32-for-67, 421 yards, six TDs, five INTs) to throw the ball.

"We don't like to give up anything, we are stingy with the field," Alexander said. "This season has been great and our goal is the state championship."

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