Union Christian’s defense came up with some big plays and the offense rallied in the second half as the Eagles defeated Mountainburg 28-21 Friday night at Buck Wells Field in Fort Smith.
It was the 2A-4 Conference opener for both teams as both were coming off losses from the first week.
The Eagles will host Johnson County Westside at home next week while Mountainburg travels to Decatur for another round of conference games.
The Dragons suffered three turnovers off of five fumbles and was forced to go three-and-out on three of its final four possessions (the fourth possession was a turnover on the first play).
"The defense had a mentality of bend, but don’t break," said Union Christian coach Chris Smith, who is in his second season at the school. "We just ran to the football and just had some outstanding play from (freshman) Spencer Massengale and Braxton Smith."
Massengale recovered two fumbles, including the one that set up the go-ahead touchdown for the Eagles and he also stopped Mounainburg’s leading rusher Clayton Stephenson for a loss on the Dragons final drive of the night.
That drive ended when on a fourth-and-2 when Will Callaway and Brock Smith halted Mountainburg quarterback Josh Skattebo (5-11, 305) for a two-yard loss.
Union Christian gained a first down, but ran out the clock to end the game.
When the Eagles recovered the final Dragon fumble, camp was set on the Mountainburg 33 with 5:26 left in the game.
After an incomplete the Eagles were hit with a 15-yard penalty, but Braxton Smith, who finished the game 24 of 50 passing for 291 yards, hit Joel Murdock for a 24-yard gain and then hurried up and tagged Dillon McBride for a quick 6-yard strike. Three plays later Braxton Smith ran the final nine yards for the score and the Eagles led for the first time 28-21 after Trevor Curtis’ PAT with 3:22 left.
"We couldn’t stop the pass," said Mounainburg coach Tom Harrell. "It seemed like they had an answer for everything we tried to do."
Mountainburg led the first half 14-0 with a 37-yard touchdown pass from Skattebo to Willis Vaught and an eight-yard run by sophomore Sam Copeland.
Union Christian got on board with a three-yard TD run from Brock Smith with 2:55 left in the half. The drive began at the Eagle 40 and Brock Smith hauled in a 40-yard pass.
The Eagles tied up the game in the third quarter on a four-yard keeper by Braxton Smith, who led his team with 34 yards rushing on eight totes and two touchdowns after starting the first half with just four yards on three carries. In the first half, Union Christian was limited five yards on seven plays. The Eagles finished with just 62 yards on the ground, but had three first downs from the running game.
"We didn’t do a very good job running the ball in the first half. It kind of got away from us," coach Smith said. "When we came out in the second half we wanted to put the ball in the hands of playmakers and get our running game established."
With the game tied up 21-21 with 11:55 remaining in the game, Mountainburg sophomore Clayton Stephenson had a big 30-yard run, but it was negated due to a penalty. Then the Eagles made two more stops for either no gain or a loss to force the Dragons to punt.
Both teams exchanged turnovers which led to the Eagles starting from the Dragon 33 to take the lead.
Skattebo was 8 of 13 for 121 yards with nine carries for 21 yards. Stephenson, who had just 12 yards in the first half on six carries, finished with 82 yards and 18 totes. Copeland had 50 yards on 10 carries for the Dragons.