The bittersweet ending to another special season for A.C. Flora came to a close Friday night — much in the same fashion it did a season ago.
The Falcons suffered several special-team blunders and were unable to get a second-half stop when they needed it, falling 41-38 to Union County at Memorial Stadium in the third round of the Class 3A playoffs.
“It wasn’t about not getting stops, it was about not being able to kick extra points and missing a field goal,” A.C. Flora coach Dean Howell said. “We left a lot of points on the field. It is what it is. Just like last year, I’m going to lose sleep because we should have won the ball game, and we didn’t. Ultimately, I have to take responsibility for that.”
The Yellow Jackets continue their unlikely run in the playoffs and next week face Daniel in the Upper State Championship. After finishing the regular season 5-5, Union County (8-5) has gone on the road to win three straight playoffs games.
“It shows a lot to have a team go on the road for three weeks — one that finished 5-5 and didn’t play very good during the regular season — and beat three very good teams with very good records,” Union County coach Steve Taneyhill said. “That is not the same team I coached the first 10 weeks this season. They are completely a different team, way more attentive and way better play.”
A.C. Flora (11-2) matched Union score-for-score, but their inability to kick extra points proved to be costly. The Falcons missed three extra points and a 28-yard field goal late in the first half. They also missed a two-point conversion try after the second touchdown.
After having trouble early in the season with extra points, the Falcons had converted 52 of their past 56 point afters before Friday night’s struggles by kicker Jack Grady.
“We go oh-for, and it’s the difference in the ball game,” Howell said. “Young kids, and we have a guy that is kicking for the first time, I don’t know what it was. I had to try and keep kicking them though.”
Union County rode the arm and legs of Shrine Bowl quarterback Keiston Smith, who accounted for six touchdowns. The senior completed 15-of-22 passes for 387 yards and three scores. He also ran for 88 yards on 18 carries and three scores, and his 12-yard run with 2 minutes remaining sealed the victory.
With the Yellow Jackets facing second-and-long and third-and-long situations several times in the second half, Smith made a play to keep the chains moving. Union County scored on its first four possessions of the second half and ran out the clock on the fifth possession.
Taneyhill was not surprised.
“Before every game — and I’ve said it since week one — I tell Keiston, ‘If you’re the best player on the field, you have to prove it every Friday.’ ” Taneyhill said. “His performance speaks for itself. With that being said, we had some great catches and individual plays by the wide outs.”
Victor Ruth had five receptions for 129 yards, and Chris Booker added six grabs for 98 yards to support their quarterback.
Smith was at his best on the game-clinching drive. He ran for 25 yards on third-and-11 to move the ball to the ACF 31. Four plays later, he scampered around right end for the 12-yard scoring run when it looked like he would be tackled in the backfield.
Jake Lewis, who had 78 yards rushing and 164 yards passing for A.C. Flora, accounted for five touchdowns, including three scores on the ground and two passing. He scored all three rushing touchdowns in the second half, the final one on a 2-yard sneak with 1:05 remaining that brought the Falcons within three. They tried an onside kick, but Dakota Ivester recovered and the Yellow Jackets ran out the clock.
“I’m proud of the kids and the way they battled,” Howell said. “Even with two minutes to go, we kept battling. This is a tough one to take.”
UC — Victor Ruth 75 pass from Keiston Smith (Brandon Shetley kick) 8:34
ACF — RJ Joyner 35 run (kick failed) 9:37
ACF — Shelton Whitaker 33 pass from Jake Lewis (pass failed) 5:25
UC — Smith 1 run (Shetley kick) 3:34
UC — Ruth 55 pass from Smith (Shetley kick) 9:15
ACF — Lewis 2 run (kick failed) 6:20
UC — T.J. Foster 39 pass from Smith (pass failed) 4:16
ACF — Lewis 11 run (kick failed) 1:02
UC — Smith 1 run (Shetley kick) 9:02
ACF — Schroder Carlton 31 pass from Lewis (Joseph Carlton kick) 4:12
UC — Smith 12 run (Shetley kick) 2:00
ACF — Lewis 2 run (Carlton kick) 1:05