[By Anthony Hawthorne, Special to ETSN.fm]

CARTHAGE -- After combining for nearly 3,000 yards on the ground this season, the duo of Keenan Johnson and Jyran Shaw faced their biggest test Friday night at Bulldog Stadium against a stingy Union Grove defense.

They passed with flying colors.

Johnson and Shaw combined for 340 rushing yards and five touchdowns, and the Alto defense stood tall in a 47-0 victory over the Union Grove Lions in a Class 2A Division I Region III semifinal.

Alto (11-0) advanced to face Centerville, a 41-0 winner over Carlisle, next week for the regional championship.

Alto's Keenen Johnson drops back to pass during the Yellowjackets' 47-0 win over Union Grove in their Class 2A Division I regional semifinal playoff Friday night in Carthage. (Bud Worley, ETSN.fm)

Johnson led the way for the Yellowjackets, completing 5 of his 9 pass attempts for 130 yards and a touchdown, while adding 183 yards and four touchdowns on the ground on 26 carries. He eclipsed the 2,000-yard rushing mark for the season early in the first quarter, while his five scores put him at 50 touchdowns on the year.

Johnson’s favorite target on the night was L’Darius Pope, who caught four passes for 118 yards and a score. Shaw complemented Johnson with 157 yards and score on just 13 carries.

The Yellowjackets scored on their first four possessions of the second half, three of which came on Johnson runs to break open what was a 19-0 halftime advantage.

The loss ended an historic Union Grove season at 10-1. Just a year removed from their first playoff appearance since 1968, the Lions picked up their first playoff win since 1965 a week ago and won a district title.

“Like I told the kids tonight, one game doesn’t define our season,” said Union Grove head coach Roger Adams. “We fought against odds, finally getting Union Grove on the map. I appreciate my coaches and my kids, it was through their hard work we had the opportunity to play tonight.”

Union Grove's Tristen Thompson is brought down by Alto defenders during their Class 2A Division I regional semifinal playoff Friday night in Carthage. (Bud Worley, ETSN.fm)

The Lions missed out on chances early that could’ve swung the game in a different direction.

A chop-block penalty on Alto’s opening possession presented a third-and-20, and Garrett Bowery took down Johnson for a 7-yard loss to force an early punt. The punt hit a Yellowjackets lineman and went just 2 yards, giving the Lions good field position at midfield.

Union Grove quarterback Tristen Thompson took the first four carries of the drive, picking up 46 yards in the process. However, he was stuffed for a 4-yard loss on third-and-2, forcing the Lions to attempt a 24-yard field goal that was short.

Thompson finished the night with 63 yards on the ground. After picking up 57 yards on his first six carries, he was held to just 6 yards on his next 19.

That was the closest the Lions got to the end zone on the night.

Alto's L'Darius Pope runs upfield during the Yellowjackets' 47-0 win over Union Grove in their Class 2A Division I regional semifinal playoff Friday night in Carthage. (Bud Worley, ETSN.fm)

“We just didn’t perform well tonight,” Adams said. “Didn’t bring our A-game, couldn’t get the ball in when we were down on the goal line. Pretty frustrating, but these kids have shown character all year, defied some odds. Alto is a good team, they showed a lot of our weaknesses.”

Alto took advantage of the Lions' inability to punch it in, with Johnson picking up 49 yards on four carries to get the ball inside the Lions 10-yard line. Two plays later he finished off the drive with a 1-yard keeper, giving the 'Jackets an early 7-0 lead.

The Jackets added to their lead from there.

A 12-yard pass from Johnson to JaVie’Ontae Mumphrey preceded Johnson runs of 2 and 7 to move to the Lions' 27. A holding call moved the ball back to the 37-yard line where Johnson hit Pope for a touchdown on third-and-13. The extra point was no good, giving the 'Jackets a 13-0 lead.

After the teams traded punts, the Lions started at their own 34 looking to get on the board before the half.

Another big chance for the Lions went awry as a third-and-11 pass from Thompson to Coleson Klein went for 52 yards to the 'Jackets' 15-yard line, before the ball was ripped out and recovered by Pope. The whistle had blown, however, and after a conference, the down was replayed due to the inadvertent whistle.

The Lions picked up another first down on that drive but never reached midfield and were forced to punt.

The Jackets, with just 1:12 on the clock until the half took advantage, as Shaw took the first-down handoff 87 yards for the score, pushing the Alto lead to 19-0 at the break.

Alto's L'Darius Pope hauls in a reception during the Yellowjackets' 47-0 win over Union Grove in their Class 2A Division I regional semifinal playoff Friday night in Carthage. (Bud Worley, ETSN.fm)

“I thought we came out a little sloppy in the first quarter,” said Alto coach Paul Gould. “After that we played real good football. I’m proud of our kids, I thought our defense flew to the football. We had a shutout, which is hard to do in the third round of the playoffs, it’s hard to do anytime. We came out in the second half and played well.”

The second half kickoff was muffed by the Lions, setting up Alto at the Lions' 25-yard line. It took just three plays, a 10-yard carry by Johnson and a 13-yarder from Shaw that set up Johnson for his second score of the night, from 2-yards out for a 26-0 lead.

The floodgates opened at that point, as the 'Jackets never looked back. The Lions' next four drives ended with two punts and two turnovers.

An interception by Craig Collins gave Alto the ball at its own 31-yard line. It took just four plays to find the end zone. Johnson hit Pope for 51 yards to the Lions' 18, then scrambled for 12 yards to set up Tyarius Hackett for a 4-yard TD to push the lead to 40-0.

Leroy Lewis picked off Thompson on the next Lions' drive, which lead to Johnson’s fourth and final score of the night. Starting at the Union Grove 40, Johnson picked up a first down on fourth-and-1 with an 8-yard carry, then found the end zone from 27 yards away to finish off the scoring and a dominant second half.

“The first half for us was slow,” Johnson said. “We came in at halftime and knew we had to pick it up and that’s what we did. We came out and ran the ball well and connected on a few big passes.”

Union Grove coach Roger Adams looks on during the Lions' 47-0 loss to Alto in their Class 2A Division I regional semifinal playoff Friday night in Carthage. (Bud Worley, ETSN.fm)

No. 7 Alto 47, Union Grove 0

Class 2A Division I
Region III Semifinal
At Bulldog Stadium, Carthage

Union Grove          0      0      0      0    --      0
Alto                       7    12    21      7    --    47

First Quarter
ALT--Keenen Johnson 1 run (Jose Perez kick), 2:39.
Second Quarter
ALT--L'Darius Pope 37 pass from Johnson (kick failed), 9:57.
ALT--Jyran Shaw 87 run (two-point failed), :55.
Third Quarter
ALT--Johnson 2 run (Perez kick), 11:06.
ALT--Johnson 27 run (Perez kick), 5:36.
ALT--Tyarius Hackett 4 run (Perez kick), 3:55.
Fourth Quarter
ALT--Johnson 27 run (Perez kick), 11:50.

                                         UG                  ALT
First Downs                           9                    14
Total Yards                        124                  504
Rushes-Yards                31-73             44-374
Passing Yards                      51                 130
Comp.-Att.Int.               4-14-2               5-9-0
Punts-Avg.                     5-38.0            3-25.0
Fumbles-Lost                      0-0                 2-0
Penalties-Yards                 5-50               8-60

RUSHING--Union Grove, Tristen Thompson 25-63, Rans Mullins 1-7, Shayne Brown 1-3, Corey Sturrock 4-0. Alto, Keenen Johnson 26-183, Jyran Shaw 13-157, Casey Cannon 2-16, Logan Cook 1-12, Tyarius Hackett 1-4, Leroy Lewis 1-2.
PASSING--Union Grove, Thompson 4-12-1--51, Brown 0-2-1--0. Alto, Johnson 5-9-0--130.
RECEIVING--Union Grove, Hunter Gray 2-42, Austin Owens 1-8, Brown 1-3, Ethan Tillery 1-(-2). Alto,  L'Darius Pope 4-118, JaVie'Ontae Mumphrey 1-12.