By Buck Ringgold | Photo by Karen Schwartz
For the first time since 2014, traditional 6A powerhouses, not to mention archrivals, Tulsa Union and Jenks are facing off for a gold ball.
The Redhawks and Trojans will renew their “Backyard Bowl” acquaintances on Saturday in Edmond for the Class 6AI championship. Kickoff from Chad Richison Stadium is set for 1 p.m.
“Any time it’s a Jenks-Union matchup, it’s an exciting event,” Jenks coach Keith Riggs said. “So many big finishes in the regular season and in the playoffs for that matter.
“Both teams know each other so well, it’s exciting for the fans because of the history and tradition and all of the matchups over the years. So a lot goes into it, but yes, we’re excited to be playing Union.”
Jenks (11-1), which suffered its only defeat to 6AII champion Bixby, is bidding to win its second straight 6AI title.
“Our kids, when we set our goals back all the way in January, they wanted to do whatever it took to get back and have this opportunity to win another one,” Riggs said. “So to see that come to fruition is exciting for them and I know they’re fired up to try to finish it on Saturday.”
As for Union (11-1), which received its new Redhawks nickname prior to the 6AI playoffs, it is seeking its first state title since 2016.
The Redhawks reached the title game after coming from behind in the fourth quarter to defeat Broken Arrow, 17-14, in the 6AI semifinals two weeks ago.
“First, our guys are excited about playing for a championship and looking forward to that opportunity,” Union coach Kirk Fridrich said. “It’s been a couple years for us at Union since we’ve played for a title, so for these seniors, it’s an exciting time for them to be able to do that.
“They weren’t able to do that their sophomore or junior year, so they’re excited about that.”
Union’s lone defeat was at the hands of the Trojans. Jenks posted a 22-0 win on Sept. 10 at Union-Tuttle Stadium.
“We have played Jenks, and it’s been a battle for us, especially the last couple of years,” Fridrich said. “They’ve had some really good teams and have played very well.
“They beat us earlier this year, but it feels like so long ago that I’m not real sure that either one of us is probably the exact same team at this time, but we look forward to the challenge; it’s going to be really tough.”
One big change for Union since that Jenks defeat has been the emergence of quarterback Rovaughn Banks. Banks began the season at tailback, but was shifted to take snaps behind center due to an injury.
Since then, Banks has completed 72-of-127 passes for 1,168 yards and 14 touchdowns. He also has 879 yards rushing on 144 carries and 14 TDs.
“Rovaughn has done a nice job for us and has really helped us,” Fridrich said. “We kind of went through some adversity in the season with a quarterback getting hurt and then we had an offensive lineman that was hurt as well, so we’ve had some position changes throughout the district race and our guys have been able to go through that and become comfortable with what we can do.”
Union’s top rusher is senior tailback Junior Smith, who has 1,136 yards on 189 carries with 11 TDs. Sophomore Jino Boyd has caught 24 passes for 540 yards and seven TDs, including the game-winner in the semifinal game against Broken Arrow.
“Having a running quarterback as well as an outstanding tailback in Smith, it puts a lot of pressure on your defense to have to defend both the tailback runs and the quarterback runs,” Riggs said.
The Trojans have also been affected by injuries in their backfield. In their opening-round 6AI playoff win against Norman North, both main tailbacks – juniors Jaiden Carroll and Jalyn Stanford – left the game with injuries.
Neither played in Jenks’ 17-10 win against Mustang in the 6AI semifinals, but Riggs confirmed both Carroll and Stanford should be good to go for Saturday.
Carroll leads the Trojans with 1,113 yards on 171 carries and 17 TDs while adding 19 receptions for 277 yards and three TDs. Stanford has 60 carries for 504 yards and nine TDs.
Though both missed the semifinal win, Jenks got a boost from sophomore Jett Turner, who rushed for more than 100 yards and had a touchdown.
Saturday’s game is also a big spot for Jenks starting quarterback Shaker Reisig, a freshman. Reisig has completed 68 percent of his passes for 1,492 yards and 18 TDs. His first start came in the Trojans’ win at Union, as Reisig completed 12-of-17 passes for 150 yards and a TD.
“He’s done a really good job,” Riggs said. “He’s a very even-tempered kid, doesn’t have the big highs or lows.
“When he makes a mistake, he brushes it off and goes on to the next play, and you’ve got to have that in a quarterback in big games and he has done a really good job of handling everything.”
The Trojans’ top receiving targets are Ty Walls, who has 45 catches for 979 yards and 10 TDs, and Glenver Jones, who has 33 catches for 608 yards and five TDs.
Jenks is averaging 35 points and 369 yards per game, while Union’s offense is averaging 356 yards a game.
Both teams’ defenses are posting similar numbers. The Redhawks are allowing 224 yards, including 99 yards on the ground, and the Trojans have allowed 253 total yards per contest.
“Defensively, (Union is) just playing at a really high level and consistency, and it all starts kind of up front with their defensive line. … I think they’ve gotten better over the course of the season, so it’ll be tough to score points on them,” Riggs said.
Fridrich mentioned lineman Matthias Roberson and linebacker Gabe Ford among his top defenders. Ford is the Redhawks’ top tackler with 125 stops, 65 of those solo, along with two sacks, while Roberson has four sacks.
“Defensively, we returned a lot of starters, so those guys have played pretty strong most of the year but I thought that Matthias Roberson at defensive end has played well and Gabe Ford at linebacker; he’s a three-year starter,” Fridrich said. “Our secondary will be tested against Jenks and it will be tough on them, but we’ve got some guys that have quite a few games under their belts, so we hope we can hold up against them.”
Union’s defense has recorded 27 sacks and 21 takeaways.
The Trojans are led up front defensively by AJ Brown and Colemon Thurber, who have combined for 127 tackles. Thurber also has 16 tackles for loss and 44 quarterback pressures. As a team, Jenks has 30 1/2 sacks.
Linebacker Ethan Bilgrien has 106 tackles, 74 of those solo, with 5 1/2 tackles for loss. Joey Havir heads up an experienced secondary, as Havir has 10 pass breakups. The Trojans have intercepted 11 passes on the year and have broken up 96 passes.
“We had too many penalties offensively in the first game (against Jenks) and then a couple of turnovers, and it’s not something you can do against a really good defense like Jenks has,” Fridrich said. “We just can’t afford to have long yardage situations or get behind the chains because of penalties; you can’t do that and put together good drives, you’re going to have to put some points on the board.”
Both teams also bring in solid placekickers. Union’s TJ Cowan has made eight field goals, one coming in the semifinal win against Broken Arrow, and 50 PAT’s, while the Trojans’ Max Paskvan has six field goals and is 49-of-50 on PAT attempts.
This will be the 11th time Union has faced Jenks for a gold ball, with the Trojans holding a 6-4 edge. The last time both teams met in a postseason game was in the 2018 semifinals, when Jenks pulled out a 27-24 win on a touchdown pass on the game’s final play.
“Every time you think a game can’t be topped, the next game something happens and it is, and I would expect in this championship game,” Riggs said. “It’s going to be another game like that where a lot of big plays are made and it’s going to come down to a big play late in the fourth quarter.”