Hilliard hosts Union County in Showdown 1A, our game of the week
To hear Hillyard coach John Butt speak, you’d think his team barely slipped through the playoffs to have to face the Georgia Bulldog this week.
Instead of Bulldogs, the Tigers of Union County are the ones visiting the red flash in the second round of the state playoffs. The game is a soccer game on Friday of the week.
They could be the best 1A team in the state,” Pat said. “All my staff went and watched them (last week when Hilliard had his goodbye), wow, they took Trenton behind the woodpile, and scored goals in every way imaginable. They are strong offensively and defensively, they have no weaknesses.”
Whether Union County has weaknesses may be debatable. What is not debatable is the tiger record. Union County enters the match with a score of 11-0. They have a 1,000-yard dash in rookie Rayvon Durant and the Tigers’ defense was a tough one to score on. Since giving up 21 points in the opening game, the Tigers have held each opponent by 14 points or less, including three elimination points.
“It’s clear in the movie, we’ve seen it, nobody can run straight for them,” Pat said. “You are going to have a strong, fast, big and motivated team that can tap, run and throw. So we have to play our best to be on the field with the fighting tigers.”
However, Hilliard should not be overlooked. Hilliard features their own 1,000-yard push, senior DJ Coston, and quarterback Lyle Bennett who has thrown 16 touchdowns and only five interceptions. In the four seasons since taking over the show, Pate has taken a team of three wins to a team of nine. This year’s 9-1 record matches the school’s record for winning in a single season.
“(In 2018) I inherited 17 players and I never inherited a good work ethic,” Pat said. “So we had to change that. You know, March or Die,” the French Foreign Legion said. And our philosophy was to exercise or leave.”
After that first season of three wins, the Red Flash went 7-5, then 8-1 last season before winning the first round for the first time in school history this season. The gains and evolution of the program have also begun to increase community support.
“It’s a great community,” Pat said. “I told our manager early in the process, ‘Winning football is good business.’ And we started building the gates together, and we started putting people there.”
Wins include wins in 20 out of 23 games for the Red Flashes. Two losses to Madison County’s traditional 1A force, and the only defeat of the season, a 52-22 loss to Blountstown 8-1 on October 20 are also.
The winner of Friday night’s game will advance to the regional finals to face the winner of the Chiefland-Lafayette match. If Lafayette pulls off the upset, Hilliard or Union County will host the match.
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