UNION — If the football gods truly were sending down a sign to Union, as star running back Michel Lucien claims, then Lucien made sure to capitalize on those offerings from the heavens.
As Union was trailing, 17-14, with eight minutes left, a blackout caused by a transformer explosion at the school building cast Cooke Field in darkness for about 20 minutes in the pouring rain. That allowed Union to regroup and collect itself, and once power was restored, those lights stayed on through the energy that Lucien generated.
Lucien rushed for three touchdowns, including the game-winning 65-yard trot and then added some insurance, and picked up 193 yards on the ground. That lead No. 3-seeded Union to a dramatic 28-17 comeback victory over No. 6 Elizabeth in the first round of the North 2, Group 5 playoffs Friday night. Jacqu’e Cook also had a touchdown for the Farmers, who rallied from a 10-0 halftime deficit to avenge a Week 2 loss against these Minutemen.
Union will travel to the rooftop and battle No. 2 Union City next Friday with a trip to the sectional final on the line.
“It must’ve been God giving us a sign,” Lucien told TAPinto.net. “We were down 10 points, and our team was like, ‘This is not our last game’. … They got the first laugh, but we get the last laugh.”
Elizabeth, which beat Union 28-14 back on September 7, took a 10-0 lead into halftime on a field goal and TD reception from Clarence Wilkins to Tasim Hicks, and held a flat Union squad to just 20 net yards in the first half. Though the Farmers regained their energy and took a brief 14-10 lead in the third quarter, Elizabeth struck again and went ahead, 17-14, early in the final frame, putting Union’s season on the ropes.
And then the lights went out.
After a 20-minute delay to get power restored, Union came out and forced Elizabeth to punt, and the rest is history. Though a hold on the Farmers’ first play of the ensuing drive pushed them back to their own 35, it didn’t matter much. On the next play, Lucien broke free over the line and then came streaking down the right sideline for a 65-yard TD to put Union ahead for good.
As if that wasn’t enough, Lucien added some insurance four minutes later. The senior’s five-yard plunge into the endzone with 1:15 left finished a six-play, 48-yard drive that allowed Union to go ahead and win, 27-18, after Ricardo Casas’ fourth PAT of the night.
“I tried my best and everything. I put my whole heart out there in the second half,” Lucien said. “Honestly, it’s the O-Line though. Couldn’t do it without the O-Line.”
Those stalwarts up front deserve every bit of praise. Excellent Asare, Chiemla Onuegbu, Jared Duran, Ernesto Hernandez, and Warren Francis provided ample room for Lucien and others to run all night.
Lucien also got Union on the board with a 43-yard breakaway TD run up the middle to cut Elizabeth’s lead to 10-7 with 4:29 left in the third quarter. That finished a drive in which Union needed just four plays to move 71 yards.
“We challenged Michel this week,” said Union head coach Lou Grasso. “We knew they have some great players, and Michel would have a chance to show himself. He did a great job, and I couldn’t be prouder of him tonight.”
Just three minutes after Lucien’s first TD, Union claimed its first lead of the night when Jacqu’e Cook reached the endzone on a 12-yard off-tackle run to his left, making it 14-10. However, Elizabeth took the lead right back when Javon Wactor broke free for an 80-yard TD run on the Minutemen’s first play of the ensuing series.
But Union wasn’t letting this one get away. The Farmers would score 14 straight points on Lucien’s heroics to advance to the next round.
“We had a lot of heart and a lot of fight in us,” junior quarterback Andrew Sanborn said. “We knew we had to come out with this win, because we did not want to go home yet. It’s been a great road and we didn’t want it to stop. We knew we had to pull through.”
Union came out admittedly flat in the first half and Elizabeth took advantage. After Union failed to score on the opening drive despite running off 15 plays, Elizabeth finished its first drive with Guinove Joanus’ 30-yard field goal, and went ahead, 10-0, when Wilkins completed a 32-yard TD pass to Hicks, completing a five-play, 49-yard series.
The Farmers accrued just 20 yards and gained only two first downs from scrimmage in that first half.
“Offensively, in the first half, we got ourselves in bad situations,” Grasso said. “We had a penalty on first down, had a ball down at the one-yard line, and didn’t really put ourselves in a good spot.
“Second half, we had better field position, and a better chance to establish the things we wanted to without worrying where we were on the field.”