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Twisters bow up in clutch for upset

Twisters bow up in clutch for upset
Twisters bow up in clutch for upset

Union City’s Jacob Worley looks for an opening behind his blockers during the Twisters’ victory over No. 5 McKenzie Friday evening.
Any lingering questions in the aftermath of Union City’s heart-stopping 21-16 victory over fifth-ranked McKenzie won’t be aimed at the Tornado defense.
UC twice stopped Rebel drives in the red zone in the fourth quarter — the last with 38 seconds to play — to cap a wild finish Friday night between the two teams generally considered the favorites in Region 7-1A.
While postgame queries afterward centered around the officiating and the tale of two halves that saw each club taking turns being dominant, there was no doubting the role of a Twister defense that bailed out an offense that turned the ball over four times while nearly blowing a 21-0 lead.
“We played with great heart defensively,” Tornado head coach Darren Bowling said. “I said a couple of weeks ago that there would be times when the defense would have to pick up the slack for our offense and vice versa and this was a great example. It’s all part of being one body where all organs function together.
“We are a team and one I’m very proud of right now.”
UC, which had shut out an opponent a week earlier for the first time in three seasons after giving up 41 points and 526 yards the Friday before in a disappointing showing against Lake County, recorded 13 tackles for lost yardage against the Rebels. In all, the Twisters and held McKenzie out of the endzone on four different occasions in all when they had reached the Union City 20.
Luke Sanderson netted three of those negative-yardage stops, and Ronnie Fair, Jacob Worley and Josh Nicks were credited with two apiece.
Stevie Gossett had a huge game at end with one of the Twisters’ two sacks, and Brandon Easley made a team-high seven tackles from his secondary post.
“Those guys just kept pounding and pounding and never gave up when they could’ve gotten their heads down by some of the positions we put them in,” Bowling added. “Our front four (Sanderson, Fair, Gossett and Trey Maddox) did a tremendous job against the run and got some pressure on the passer, and our linebackers are getting better against the run.
“We have to commit so much to stopping the rush that sometimes our defensive backs have it tough, but I thought those guys made a couple of plays late that gave them some confidence and will help us down the road.”
The game was not without controversy, however, as McKenzie fans left War Memorial Stadium howling after the Rebels were whistled with back-to-back unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in the final seconds after a no-call on the visitors’ final fourth-down pass attempt on which there appeared to be receiver/defender contact just inside the 10.
The Rebels also had one touchdown called back via flag early in the fourth period and were penalized 13 times for 103 yards in all.
Otherwise, it was physical hand-to-hand combat throughout the contest with UC looking as if it would run away and hide early, before McKenzie got off the deck and controlled much of the final two quarters when it limited the locals to 64 total yards.
Union City QB Colton Speed experienced life on both ends of the good and not-so-good spectrum.
Speed set up the Tornadoes’ first touchdown with a 33-yard pass to Julian Moss that led to Kendrick Price’s short scoring plunge and then won a 62-yard sprint against the Rebel defense after bolting over left guard on a keeper to make it 14-0 early in the second period.
Speed, though, who battled cramps from the midway point on, fumbled away possession three times while fighting for extra yardage and had a tipped pass intercepted that led to a Rebel field goal.
The Twisters were beneficiaries of good fortune on the last of their three consecutive scoring drives in the first half when Nicks recovered a Maddox fumble that bounded forward into the endzone from the six with 4:56 left before halftime.
A 21-yard pass from Speed to Worley was the big-gainer in the six-play, 56-yard scoring drive, and Peter Wilkes’ third straight point-after put UC seemingly in control, up 21-0.
McKenzie shifted momentum in its favor, however, by getting on the scoreboard two minutes before the intermission.
A 57-yard pass play from Austin McKinney to John Johnson that was the result of a missed tackle set up an eight-yard run by Quinton Bowden and made it 21-6 at the half.
Speed’s fumble at the Rebel 21 when the Tornadoes were threatening after taking the second half kickoff set the tone for the Purple and Gold, which turned the ball over on three of four second-half possessions.
A defensive stand that netted McKenzie minus-two yards after a Speed interception that was returned to the Tornado 18 forced the Rebs to settle for Harris Laughery’s 37-yard field goal that narrowed the difference to 21-9 with two minutes left in the third period.
UC dodged a bullet when McKinney’s 15-yard scoring scamper was wiped off via a holding flag and McKenzie ultimately got no points out of the drive early in the fourth when Price batted down a fourth-down pass.
Another fumble, though, set up Bowden’s 11-yard scoring run with 5:42 left, Laughery’s extra-point making it 21-16.
The Rebels started their final drive on their own 16 with 3:18 to play and moved quickly into scoring territory thanks to a 39-pass from McKinney to Johnson on which there was as missed tackle.
The drive reached the Union City 16 before the aforementioned highly-disputed final play after which McKenzie coach Wade Comer drew the first of two unsportsmanlike penalties on the Rebs.
“This is just a huge win for our program,” Bowling concluded. “We’re still a work in progress. We’re getting better, but people understand we just got here a few months ago and we’re not seasoned yet on offense or defense.
“It’s something we can build on, though.”
Union City plays at Obion Central this Friday.
Sports editor Mike Hutchens can be contacted by e-mail at mhutch@ucmessenger.com.

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