Union gets past Rochester in battle of Cinderellas in WPIAL Class A semifinals

Friday, November 18, 2022 | 10:23 PM

It’s a run that the Union Scotties faithful will remember forever.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Braylon Thomas went up the middle on a quarterback draw, the seas parted, and he ran 58 yards into the end zone for a touchdown.

With it came a trip to a WPIAL championship for the first time since 1973.

Thomas’ run midway through the fourth quarter proved to be the winning score as 10th-seeded Union held off No. 14 Rochester, 18-16, in the Class A semifinals Friday night at Freedom.

Thomas was sacked on the previous play, setting up a third-and-long, but he found a way to come through and give Union the lead.

“I was just looking to get the yards back and make it a manageable fourth down,” Thomas said. “I saw the hole and then I had hope.”

The Scotties (10-3) advanced to play top-seeded Bishop Canevin in the Class A championship at 11 a.m. Saturday at Acrisure Stadium.

“I think it’ll set in when I wake up tomorrow and know it’s true,” Thomas said about playing for a championship.

Rochester (7-5) drove inside the Scotties’ 30-yard line on its final drive, but Matt Stanley intercepted a pass by Jayden Norman at the 24-yard line in the final minute to seal the win.

Union defeated Rochester, 6-0, in Big 7 Conference play Oct. 7, and the rematch was another tight affair.

Prior to Thomas’ touchdown, Rochester marched down the field behind the running of sophomore Antonio Laure, who eventually scored on a 3-yard run to give the Rams a 16-12 lead early in the fourth quarter.

Laure had 143 yards and two touchdowns.

“It was a back-and-forth game, and Rochester is a very good football team that played very tough,” first-year Union coach Kim Niedbala said. “Braylon made a play when he needed to, and he’s done that all year. It was not surprising, but the situation was huge.”

Union scored on its opening drive on a 12-yard connection between Thomas and Maddox Thompson. The score was set up by a 42-yard pass from Thomas to Mike Gunn on a wheel route.

Rochester turned to Laure on the next drive. Laure rushed seven times for 61 yards, sometimes out of a wildcat formation, and eventually scored on a 1-yard run. Norman hit Ryan Clark to convert the two-point try and Rochester led 8-6 late in the first quarter.

The Scotties had two drives stopped deep in Rochester territory in the second quarter, but they used the Thomas-to-Thompson connection to make the third time the charm.

On a fourth-and-18 from the Rochester 23, Thomas rifled a pass over the middle that was caught by Thompson at the 5-yard line, and Thompson fought his way across the goal line. Union failed on a two-point conversion try but took a 12-8 lead into halftime.

Rochester’s improbable run as a 14 seed came up one game short of the finals, but the Rams were able to pull two upsets with several key players down due to injury, including starting quarterback Parker Lyons.

“The bottom line is that these seniors are very special to me because they carried this team that could’ve quit in the middle of the season,” Rochester coach Gene Matsook said. “We ended up going further than anyone believed we could go. We ended up coming up one play short tonight, but I couldn’t be prouder of these guys.”

Watch an archived video stream of this broadcast on Trib HSSN.

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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