SEBEWAING — Nothing has come easy for Unionville-Sebewaing Area in recent years.
After dominating the area football scene for nearly a decade, the Patriots have been plagued the last few seasons with low numbers, a super-tough schedule, and some bad luck.
Fast forward to 2011. The 4-1 Patriots have turned things around and are off to their best start since 2006.
Better yet, they’re just a couple of wins away from their first league championship since 2005.
The Patriots have a chance to inch closer to the coveted conference title Friday night when they host 4-1 Vassar in a key Greater Thumb West showdown.
USA comes into the game at 4-0 in the GTW; Vassar is 2-1.
USA is 0-3 against the Vulcans since they joined the GTC in 2008, including last season’s 34-20 decision.
USA coach Jason Beagle knows this is a crucial test for his Patriots.
“Vassar has a very athletic team, with the best team speed that we have seen this year,” Beagle said. “We will need to be very fundamentally sound and make sure we are in the proper position to stop them.
“I think we actually match up well with them, but they will turn your mistake into points in a hurry, so our execution will need to be perfect.”
The Patriots weren’t so perfect early on in last week’s 30-22 come-from-behind victory over upstart Bad Axe. USA trailed 22-0 after one quarter before rallying for 30 unanswered points, including the go-ahead touchdown from Brandon Harper with 1:30 to play.
“First off, Bad Axe is a good football team,” Beagle explained. “They are running a totally new offense and defense from previous years which explains some of their early struggles, but they are starting to figure things out.
“They came in and executed right from the start. We made some mistakes that we don't typically make, and they took advantage of those mistakes. That is something we need to improve on in the coming weeks.”
The Patriots started their rally with a pair of kick returns for TDs from McKay Jones, who has combined with Harper and Tim Zube to give USA some big-play potential.
“(Tim and Brandon) have both worked very hard this season, along with McKay, to run our system,” Beagle said. “We ask them to not only run the ball, but carry out fakes and lead block. I think that all three of them are starting to hit their stride at the right time.
“And our offensive line has also come a long way in their development, which has helped our running game.”
Meanwhile, Vassar comes in off a 45-15 victory over Memphis. In that game, Nathan Greaves rushed for 167 yards and three TDs while Zac Case added 166 yards and one score. The Vulcans also got a school-record 35-yard field goal from exchange student Henrik Von Richthofen.
Vassar’s loss this season came in Week 4 when Reese walked away with a 28-12 decision. USA’s loss this season came in Week 1 when Ubly captured a 28-0 victory.
Beagle feels his team has made major strides since then.
“We are a young team, so we knew some of our players were going to learn on the fly,” he said. “Week 1 was a real eye-opener for some of them, but those players have improved. We will find out how much they have learned in the next four weeks.”
After this week’s game with Vassar, the Patriots travel to Reese on Oct. 7 for the annual Sugar Bowl.
Vassar (4-1, 2-1) at USA (4-1, 4-0)
W1: Caro 35-0
W2: EPBP 50-12
W3: BCAS 46-7
W4: Reese (L) 12-28
W5: Memphis 45-15
PF: 188 (37.6)
PA: 62 (12.4)
Opp. Record: 7-18
Playoff Points: 43.800
W1: Ubly (L) 0-28
W2: BCAS 16-8
W3: EPBP 36-26
W4: Cass City 20-13
W5: Bad Axe 30-22
PF: 102 (20.4)
PA: 97 (19.4)
Opp. Record: 6-19
Playoff Points: 40.400
BOGAN SAYS: I like USA, but the Vulcans have more depth and more speed.
PICK: Vassar 26, USA 20