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LA PORTE CITY – With the exception of three big plays in the third quarter, the Union Knights controlled nearly everything about their district play-opening win over Roland-Story on Friday.

Union Coach Joe Hadachek could have done without those three plays, but he couldn’t argue with the end result. The Knights, who didn’t play up to their standards in their season opener against Gladbrook-Reinbeck, and fell just short of topping their non-district rival Center Point-Urbana in week two, defeated Roland-Story, 41-21.

“The bottom line was we needed a win,” Hadachek said.

“We learned a lot, we’re in district play now and these games really matter,” said do-everything running back Isaiah Vaugahn.

Against Roland-Story, the team largely stuck with what worked against Center Point-Urbana. Which is to say: giving Vaughan room to maneuver and letting him run loose.

After a nice return by Vaughan to start the game, the Knights went to him nine times on the first drive of the game, which included a first down on fourth-and-inches, and ended with a 12-yard touchdown run midway through the first quarter.

The team’s second drive consisted of more tough running by Vaughan, and a 23-yard run by junior quarterback John Boisen that put the Knights in the redzone. Vaughan punched it in with a powerful 12-yard run to extend the team’s lead to 14 nearly three minutes after his first score of the game.

On the opposite side of the ball, the Knights’ defense was equally imposing. The team consistently put pressure on Roland-Story quarterback Brett Staton in the early going. Senior Zane Seuser and junior Brock Hadachek each had sacks in the first half, with the former getting two, and the latter coming following a Roland-Story interception that could have altered the game’s momentum.

With 7:19 left in the half, Boisen connected with Vaughan over the middle, and the junior took it all the way to the endzone for a 40-yard touchdown to make it 21-0.

Roland-Story returned the kickoff for a touchdown, but it was called back for holding. The Knights went into the locker room at the half with a three-touchdown advantage.

“At halftime, there really wasn’t much to be dissatisfied about,” Coach Hadachek said.

However, in the third quarter, Roland-Story fought back and made things interesting. It took time, though.

Sophomore Jace Glenn and senior Jared Jolley made back-to-back stops to force a three-and-out to start the quarter, and Boisen found Hadachek for a 58-yard touchdown pass with 9 minutes left. 

Down by 28 points, it looked like Roland-Story was done, but on its next possession, the team pieced together a quick three-play drive that concluded with a 42-yard touchdown pass by Staton to senior Alex Tieg. 

After a Roland-Story sack on third down forced a Union punt on the subsequent drive, Staton and Tieg beat the Knights deep again on a missed assignment on a blitz, making it 28-14. Staton then picked off and returned a Boisen pass when the quarterback was under pressure at the team’s own 10 yard line.

When asked what was running through the team’s mind when Roland-Story cut the lead to seven points, Vaugahn said, “We’re not going to lose this game.”

“Third quarter, I think we just thought. ‘this is game is ours,’” said Brock Hadachek, who finished with a team-high four receptions for 93 yards. “But they wanted it, and they were coming back for us, but we pulled it together.”

In the fourth quarter, Vaughan scored two more touchdowns, Roland-Story turned over the ball on a bad snap near its own territory, Union senior lineman Tate Renaud forced and recovered a fumble and Glenn intercepted a Staton pass to seal the game.

Vaughan finished the game with 247 rushing yards and four touchdowns, plus the 40-yard touchdown reception. It was his second eyebrow-raising performance in a row.

“It’s just my line,” he said. “They give me a huge hole and I just take it every time.”

Senior center Daycen Douglass, who was banged up against CP-U, didn’t start the game but was able to come in after the first few series and contribute to the team’s offensive line, which is anchored by seniors Renaud and Carter Hennessey.

Glenn led the team in total tackles with 6.5, while Seuser had six, but many Knights made strong defensive plays over the course of the game, and the team’s special teams unit was solid throughout the night as well.

Boisen completed five of 13 passes for 133 yards with two touchdowns, and rushed for 32 yards.

Next week, the Knights (1-2, 1-0 district) will vie for their second district win when they face one of their toughest opponents of the season in South Tama (3-0, 1-0). 

“I was really happy with the way we responded to adversity,” Coach Hadachek said after his team’s first win. “We didn’t panic, we stayed together.”