Union heads into Class 4A Greater St. Helens league play

ClarkCountyToday.com reporter Paul Valencia does his video homework to provide a review of Union’s Week 1 win and a look at the Titans’ Week 2 matchup.

Titans, 3-1 on the season, to meet Heritage in Week 5

Union Titans (3-1)

Week 1: Union 35, Hermiston (Ore.) 21

Week 2: Union 26, Mountain View 21

Week 3: Eastside Catholic 35, Union 0

Week 4: Union 33, Tumwater 29

Next: Union vs. Heritage, 7:30 p.m. at McKenzie Stadium

The Titans went 71 yards in four plays to beat Tumwater in a wild one at McKenzie Stadium.

Before getting to the winning drive and other notes, here was my favorite highlight of the night …:

Smart, smart football:

I want to start this report with a salute to a player who did right by his team and, more importantly, did right for this game.

Union’s Dustin Nettles (9) is shown here wrestling an interception away from Mountain View receiver Michael Bolds (8) in a game earlier this season. Nettles made an important play in the Titans’ win over Tumwater last week. Photo by Mike Schultz
Union’s Dustin Nettles (9) is shown here wrestling an interception away from Mountain View receiver Michael Bolds (8) in a game earlier this season. Nettles made an important play in the Titans’ win over Tumwater last week. Photo by Mike Schultz

As you know, football is changing. There is more emphasis on player safety, and that is a great thing, even if it takes some time for the old guard of football to adjust.  

Football remains a collision, contact sport. There will always be risk associated with the sport.

However, it no longer has to be, no longer should be, an old-school, crush ‘em-at-all-costs mentality.

Limiting collisions, by teaching players when it is OK not to level someone, is important for any of us who love the game, who want the game not only to survive but to thrive. This is why the blind-side block, the crack-back, the destroy-your-opponent-when-he-is-defenseless mindset is on its way out. Especially at the high school level.

It might not look as “cool” on video and it might not get the retweets on Twitter, but often, just getting in the way of an opponent to slow him down is enough to win the play. We should want to take our opponents out of a play; we should not want to take our opponents out.

Union quarterback Lincoln Victor had a 22-yard scramble for a touchdown in the third quarter Friday night against Tumwater. One of his teammates who helped get him there did so in the right way.

A Tumwater defender appeared to have a chance to stop Victor inside the 10-yard line. He was focused on Victor, taking a pursuit angle, and had no idea that Union’s Dustin Nettles was in position to crush him.

Instead, Nettles did the right thing. He slowed and got in the defender’s way.

That defender had to hesitate. He had to run around Nettles.

In the old days, a player in Nettles’ position would have lowered his head, then lowered the boom on the Tumwater defender. In fact, he would have been coached to do just that. The defender would have been crushed. The crowd would have went crazy. The quarterback would have scored. However, that defender might have been on the ground, dazed at least, seriously injured at worst.

On this night, though, Dustin Nettles used his proper position and simply got in the way. There was no “OMG! DID YOU SEE THAT” hit? He simply got in the way and did his job.

I know his coaches loved the fact that Nettles did not “blow up” the defender. For one, that play is now against the rules. It would have nullified the touchdown. But more importantly, it is for player safety and the protection of the game we love.

That defender did get around Nettles. However, the defender had to hesitate. Nettles’ presence slowed him down. That was all Victor needed.

Victory made it to the end zone, and no Thunderbirds were injured in the making of this Union touchdown.

Lincoln unleashed:

That is how Union coach Rory Rosenbach described the game-winning drive for the Titans. Lincoln Victor unleashed.

“It was fun to watch him say, ‘Time to take over,’” Rosenbach said.

The Union quarterback engineered a four-play, 71-yard touchdown drive to win the game.

Jojo Siofele got it started with a 15-yard run. Offensive lineman Giovanny Rojo pulled and got a block six yards beyond the line of scrimmage to spring Siofele.

Next play, a designed run for the quarterback. Victor went 21 yards.

From there, Victor got away from trouble and threw the ball toward the sideline to a place either his receiver could get to, or no one. Braedon Ensley made a diving catch while keeping his feet in bounds for a 12-yard reception.

Then there was the touchdown. Victor had to turn his back on the oncoming pass rush, escaped the pocket by running to his left, then threw across his body to the right and found Alishawuan Taylor, who turned and burned the final 15 yards into the end zone for a 33-29 lead.

Guess who:

Early in the game, from the sideline camera, I saw a Union Titan make a great open-field tackle, taking down the Tumwater ball carrier for a loss of two yards.

From that angle, I could not see the number of the Union player.

But I knew.

Doesn’t it seem like every time there is a great open-field tackle by a Union defensive back that it’s Braedon Ensley?

Sure enough, from the end zone camera, it’s clearly No. 1, Ensley, making that play.

Ensley made a bigger play, too, at the end of the game. Tumwater, after falling behind by four points, moved inside the Union 10-yard line. Time for two more plays. Ensley had another open-field tackle for a loss of yards. Ensley was not necessarily the last line of defense on that play, but had he not made the tackle, it would have been interesting to see just how far Tumwater would have gone that play.

The next play was an incomplete pass and the game was over.

Coach Speak:

What did Rory Rosenbach learn about his team in Week 4? “We still have a ton of work to do, on both sides of the ball, of being physical,” he said.

Rosenbach noted Tumwater just kept punishing his Titans with a similar play.

“They did wear us out, but our kids kept fighting, kept competing. I gave them credit. Our kids were resilient, and our kids kept battling.”

MVP on offense: Lincoln Victor. “He made a mistake early, and he battled back,’’ Rosenbach said. “When we needed it, he was there.”

MVPs on defense: Joshua Joo made his first varsity start for the Titans, and he led the team in tackles. Braedon Ensley, who made a ton of tackles, including the “tackle of the game,” Rosebach said, on the game’s penultimate play.

Thoughts on Week 5 vs. Heritage: “We are excited to begin league play,’’ Rosenbach said. “Like many other teams down here, we purposely schedule a difficult non-league schedule. We feel we’re better because of it. We’re tested. We know what we’re about. Just excited to get league play started.”

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