Key moments determine the outcome of big games.
Union High’s Jackson Clark made sure those pivotal plays went in his team’s favor Friday night.
Clark delivered a touchdown-saving tackle in the first half and then scored a touchdown followed by a two-point conversion in the Scotties’ 16-0 WPIAL Class 1A Big Seven Conference home win over Rochester.
The Rams came in ranked No. 3 in the state poll.
For his efforts, Clark was named the Lawrence County Athlete of the Week, as voted on by the New Castle News sports staff.
Clark, a 5-foot-11, 191-pound senior running back/linebacker, is a son of Angela Thompson and Jemmell Clark.
Rochester had the ball fourth-and-goal from Union’s 6 in the first half. The Rams’ ball carrier was racing for the corner of the end zone to score the game’s first points. But, Clark raced up and knocked the runner out of bounds at the 1 to turn the ball over on downs.
“The game he played on both sides of the ball was pretty impressive,” Union coach Stacy Robinson said. “He gave us the spurt in the first half. He knocked the quarterback out of bounds at the 1. That was crucial.
“Momentum is so big in high school sports. That gave us a defensive stand. They had us on our heels, but that gave us a chance to regroup. I think it was the key to the victory.”
Said Clark of the tackle, “I feel like I was there to make the play. That was a big momentum change. I feel like if we don’t keep them off the board, it could have been a whole different ballgame.”
The game remained scoreless until the fourth quarter when Clark dashed in for a 4-yard touchdown with 8:06 remaining. He converted the two-point run as well and the Scotties went on to claim the win.
“We all knew he was running our bread and butter play,” Clark said of the run call. “I thank the line for doing the job they did blocking. I ran off the right tackle and a good hole opened up.”
It was a hot night and there was a timeout prior to the game’s first touchdown.
“I had to call timeout to call the play. Jackson was drenched in sweat,” Robinson said. “He asked me, ‘if we score I’m going to need a break on the kickoff.’ I said, ‘if we score, I’ll give you a break.’
“He was playing a hundred miles an hour. We put the ball in his hands. He didn’t blink. The line blocked and they executed. They saw their work come to fruition. Jackson powered it in. You have to have a play to hang your hat on. He broke a tackle or two and went into the end zone.”
Clark got his break, but not until his two-point conversion run gave Union an 8-0 lead.
“I try not to outsmart myself. When the chips are down, you go with the people you can rely on,” Robinson said. “He wanted the weight on his shoulders. He expected to get the ball.
“He’ll be something others can measure themselves by. There’s a heavy load to manage at Union, but he has big shoulders. He earned a couple of plays off.”
Clark brings confidence to the Scotties’ huddle.
“I just had to get it done,” he said. “The conversion was the same play; I went right on that one, too.
“I knew I had to get it done to get the team going.”
There are 26 players listed on the Union roster. Players have to play multiple positions for the Scotties and Clark does just that. Clark serves as the placekicker, he kicks off, plays middle linebacker on defense, fullback on offense and sometimes tailback.
“I just want to go out there and play ball,” Clark said. “You don’t know when your last game is going to be.”
Last year, Clark even threw a touchdown pass.
Clark has rolled up 179 rushing yards on 40 attempts on the year with five touchdowns, a two-point conversion and three extra points.
Robinson noted Clark’s defensive abilities.
“He comes down hill. When he gets there, he delivers a blow,” Robinson said. “He takes the running back backwards. He’s reading his keys and doing what he’s been coached to do.
“He’s a sure tackler, an open-field tackler and a physical tackler.”
Clark also plays baseball. He’s undecided on his future.