[By Anthony Hawthorne, Special to ETSN.fm]

HALLSVILLE – Both Waskom and Union Grove entered Thursday night’s bi-district matchup with quite a lengthy playoff drought between them.

The Waskom Wildcats proved from the get-go they were determined to keep their dream season alive.

Junebug Johnson returned the opening kickoff 65 yards for a score, caught a touchdown pass and added a third on the ground as the Waskom Wildcats moved to 11-0, defeating the Union Grove Lions 56-17 to advance to the Class 2A D-II Region III area playoffs.

Union Grove's Garrett Gibson is brought down by the Waskom defense during their Class 2A Division II Region III bi-district playoff Thursday night in Hallsville. (Jeff Stapleton, ETSN.fm)

Waskom will face the winner between Deweyville and Rosebud-Lott at a time and place to be determined.

The ground game was once again the difference maker as Waskom averaged an astounding 13 yards per rush as a team, totaling 327 yards on the night.

Despite running just 28 plays, the Wildcats got their usual production out of the trio of Junebug Johnson, Kevin Johnson and Dillon Benton, who combined for five scores on the ground.

Just a week after throwing, catching and rushing for scores, Johnson found a new way to get to the end zone, taking the opening kickoff for a touchdown and setting the tone for what was to come.

“I just think he’s a phenomenal football player” said Waskom coach Whitney Keeling. “He just makes plays, different ways it seems like in every game”

The junior added two more scores in the opening quarter, scoring from 9 yards out on the ground and catching a 48-yarder on a double-reverse flea-flicker. Quarterback Trace Carter found Johnson streaking down the middle of the field on the Wildcats' only passing attempt of the night.

Kevin Johnson got his first touchdown of the night a short while later, jetting around the left side for a 14-yard score.

Waskom's Junebug Johnson is sandwiched between a pair of Union Grove defenders during their Class 2A Division II Region III bi-district playoff Thursday night in Hallsville. (Jeff Stapleton, ETSN.fm)

Union Grove got on the board on the game's next possession, thanks in large part to several Wildcat miscues.

A punt on fourth-and-9 from their own 36 by the Lions was fumbled by the Wildcats, giving Union Grove the ball the at the Waskom 35. After a sack by Johnson on third-and-long, the Lions were forced to punt again. The Wildcats once again fumbled it, giving Union Grove the ball at the 11-yard line.

Pressure from Mike Reason, who was in the backfield all night and accounted for two tackles for loss and two quarterback pressures, forced the Lions into settling for a 29-yard field goal by Brant Ogilvie, trimming Waskom's lead to 28-3.

The Wildcats' final first-half possession looked to be ending in a punt after what appeared to be an offsides penalty on Union Grove that wasn’t called on a third-and-short play. Following a timeout, the Wildcats lined up in punt-formation and direct-snapped the ball to Benton, who went untouched for a 74-yard score -- his first of two on the night.

The Wildcats held a commanding 35-3 halftime lead, and despite running just eight second-half plays, managed to increase their lead.

Benton took advantage of his only second-half carry, taking the Wildcats' first play of the third quarter 68 yards for a score. The junior finished the night with 145 yards on just five carries.

Kevin Johnson, also a junior, tallied his second score of the night on the next possession’s first play, taking it to the house from 52 yards away. He ended the night with 91 yards on just six carries.

The Lions, making their first playoff appearance since 1968, finished the season at 5-6. They battled to the end, scoring on their final two possessions, thanks in large part to the duo of Garrett Gibson and Tristen Thompson.

Gibson’s 20-yard scoring run, on which dragged several tacklers with him, capped a 16-play drive that covered 73 yards. The senior finished the night accounting for 158 yards and two touchdowns -- his second coming on a 19-yard pass to Thompson to close things out. Thompson finished with six catches for 64 yards.

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Class 2A Division II Region III Bi-District Playoff

Waskom 56, Union Grove 17

Bobcat Stadium, Hallsville

Union Grove           0    3    0   14   --   17
Waskom               21  14  14     7   --   56
First Quarter
WAS--Junebug Johnson 65 kickoff return (Manny Munoz kick), 11:46.
WAS--Junebug Johnson 9 run (Munoz kick), 5:25.
WAS--Junebug Johnson 48 pass from Trace Carter (Munoz kick), 1:47.
Second Quarter
WAS--Kevin Johnson 14 run (Munoz kick), 10:11.
UG--FG Brant Ogilvie 29, 5:37.
WAS--Dillon Benton 74 run (Munoz kick), 2:42.
Third Quarter
WAS--Benton 68 run (Munoz kick), 9:33.
WAS--Justin Spurlin 0 fumble recovery (Munoz kick), 7:31.
Fourth Quarter
UG--Garrett Gibson 20 run (Ogilvie kick), 11:37.
WAS--Kevin Johnson 52 run (Munoz kick), 10:56.
UG--Tristen Thompson 19 pass from Gibson (Ogilvie kick), 3:06.

                                     UG              WAS
First Downs                      10                   7
Total Yards                     192                375
Rushes-Yards             35-127          25-327
Passing Yards                   65                 48
Comp.-Att.-Int.           8-21-0             1-1-0
Punts-Avg.                  6-33.0               0-0
Fumbles-Lost                   1-1               1-0
Penalties-Yards               6-55             4-20

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS
RUSHING--Union Grove, Garrett Gibson 21-94, Tristen Thompson 7-20, Corey Sturrock 7-13. Waskom, Dillon Benton 5-145, Kevin Johnson 6-91, Junebug Johnson 4-35, Trace Carter 4-28, Tony Ratcliff 4-24, Ben Wise 2-4.
PASSING--Union Grove, Gibson 7-16-0--64, Thompson 1-5-0--1. Waskom, Carter 1-1-0--48.
RECEIVING--Union Grove, Thompson 6-64, Gibson 1-1, Kyle Cotton 1-0. Waskom, Junebug Johnson 1-48.

Waskom's Kevin Johnson looks for room to run during the Wildcats' 56-17 win over Union Grove in their Class 2A Division II Region III bi-district playoff Thursday night in Hallsville. (Jeff Stapleton, ETSN.fm)