By Kendall Jackson
McDONOUGH, Ga. — After a competition of any sorts, and most times during, the better of the two competitors is usually determined by the winner.
During Friday night’s football game between two classic Henry County rivals, Union Grove (2-4) and Ola (6-0) it, at times, was hard to determine who the better team was.
Although Ola notched a 38-28 victory over its traditional nemesis, and at times looked like the obviously better squad, for those who watched the game in entirety, another perspective isn’t completely out of the question. While Ola was up 31-6 at halftime and had scored on almost every drive, when context is added and a plethora of self-inflicted Wolverine mishaps are considered, the seemingly lopsided affair was so much closer than it ended, leaving Union Grove coaches, players and fans playing a game of “what-ifs.”
Alas, would-haves, could-haves and should-haves don’t win football games.
Ola’s ability to start fast and then hold off a surging Union Grove in the second half proved that not only was it the better team on Friday night, but it’s currently one of the better teams in Georgia right now. And Ola running back, Micah Bell played like the best player on the field.
The junior rushed for 134 yards on just nine carries—a whopping 14.9 yards per touch, and scored two touchdowns on the ground, and a third on a 26-yard pass reception.
Junior quarterback Jake Hall chipped in 113 rushing yards of his own on 13 carries, with a rushing score. He also finished 6 of 11 passing with 81 yards and a pair of touchdown passes. The junior duo did enough to help Ola shake off Union Grove’s second half surge, and for Mustangs coach Jared Zito, that’s enough for him, especially in a rivalry game.
“A win is a win is a win is a win,” Zito said. “Being 6-0 is 6-0. (In a rivalry game), you let them win the emotional and mental game. If you really want to be that team that’s a region champion and that playoff team that’s a contender, that right there will kill you before you ever get started.”
Turnovers and miscues—both forced and unforced—doomed the Wolverines before their offense could get rolling in the second half. And Wolverines head coach Casey Smith noted Ola as being a team too talented to make such errors with.
“[We] made a lot of just, you know, simple mistakes that you just can’t do that against a good team like that,” Smith said.
Considering that many of Ola’s points came from big plays off of those Union Grove miscues, and that Union Grove was able to put together several sustained drives that made its offense appear at times that it could do what it wanted, when it wanted, one might wonder what the game could’ve been if the Wolverines could’ve executed a little ball control.
Union Grove turned over the ball twice after long and efficient drives that went all the way to Ola 5-yard line—once in the first half on a fumble, and another later in the game while trying to mount a comeback. Had the Wolverines converted at least a field goal on those two drives, the outcome of the game could have been much different.
Union Grove’s defense also responded in the second half by only giving up six points, an astronomical improvement from the 31 they gave up in the first half. Outscoring Ola 22-6 in the second half also showed that the Wolverines had plenty of fight and commensurate talent to go toe-to-toe with arguably the Southside’s best team.
Smith said he felt his team left “anywhere from 6 to 15 points on the field” during the game, lamenting that the 10-point loss could have easily been a 5-point victory if certain things would’ve broken right. It proves, though, that grit and fight isn’t always enough to overcome poor execution, especially when facing elite teams.
“It goes back to the fundamentals of blocking, tackling and taking care of the ball,” Smith said. “We did that pretty well in the second half, but we failed to do that in the first half, and we’ve got to gel and put four quarters together and not just two.”
The win keeps Ola (6-0, 3-0 in Region 4-AAAAA) in position to control its own destiny toward a region championship. And with region wins against Dutchtown and Woodland already under their belts, the Mustangs could take sole possession of first place in the region Friday with a win at Jones County (3-3, 3-0).
After getting off to an 0-3 start this season, including losses to Class 7A powers Grayson and North Gwinnett, Jones has bounced back with three strong, convincing region wins, including a 62-22 victory over this same Union Grove squad back on October 2 and a somewhat surprisingly easy 51-8 win over Locust Grove Friday.
Ola’s defense will get arguably its stiffest test of the season, as the Greyhounds will come in averaging 49 points per game during that three-game winning streak. Meanwhile, Union Grove, losers of four straight after a 2-0 start, will try and stop the bleeding Friday when it hosts a scrappy Eagle’s Landing squad.