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No. 2 Twisters, 3rd-rated Ponies downplay big date

No. 2 Twisters, 3rd-rated Ponies downplay big date
It’s not No. 1 vs. No. 2, but it’s the next best thing.
Friday’s Class 1A showdown between Union City and Huntingdon will match the Nos. 2 and 3 teams in the state, according to the latest Associated Press prep rankings released Tuesday afternoon.
The Tornadoes and Mustangs were separated by a slim margin — four total points — for the second consecutive week in voting by AP sports writers and broadcasters.
Both teams still trail South Pittsburg, which collected 16 of 19 first-place ballots cast. UC, Jo Byrns and Collinwood got the remaining first-place nods.
Typically, both head coaches — Huntingdon’s Eric Swenson and the Twisters’ Darren Bowling — downplayed the hype that naturally accompanies this week’s much-anticipated matchup.
“I guess it’s a big game because it’s No. 2 against No. 3, but it’s not a district game so that kind of reduces its importance,” Swenson said. “More than anything, we’re excited about renewing our rivalry with Union City. Our two programs have a great history together and have had some great games.”
The Mustangs and UC indeed have notable past that includes a handful of seasons when they’ve met twice, once during the regular season and another time in the semifinals of the Class 2A playoffs.
Swenson, who was the offensive coordinator on the Huntingdon staff when the Ponies played Union City six times from 1997-2000, acknowledged that possibility again this season.
“I believe that the road to the state championship game goes through Union City, and there’s a real chance we could see them again,” the fifth-year Mustang skipper continued.
Though Huntingdon comes in with a 2-1 record, while the Tornadoes are 2-0, the Ponies have surely played the tougher schedule to-date.
A last-second win over Westview and a close loss to Milan (No. 2 in 3A) have given the Mustangs great confidence coming into Friday’s game with UC, according to their coach.
“Westview may be the best 0-3 team in the state, and Milan is just like Milan always is,” Swenson said. “Those games have shown us what speed you have to play the game at against the better teams. They’ve helped us, for sure, and given us belief in ourselves.”
For his part, Bowling echoed Swenson’s sentiments in trying to downplay the importance of Friday’s showdown.
“Probably Coach Swenson and I are the only ones who feel that way but, in the grand scheme of things, it’s just another regular season game in a lot of ways,” insisted the Tornado head coach, whose club has blown out 0-3 Trigg County (Ky.) and 0-2 Trenton this year. “I’m glad it’s not a district game. And we’re trying not to get caught up in all the hype.
“No matter which way it goes, I’ll just remind everybody that we could very well see them again in the playoffs. We had that same scenario last year where we played and beat McKenzie in the regular season in a game that captured a lot of attention. It didn’t mean anything, though, when they came back and beat us in the playoffs.”
Swenson deemed his troops “fairly healthy” for the matchup, while Bowling said two-way starter Jacob Worley (high ankle sprain) would be a game-time decision after being injured in the second quarter of last week’s romp over Peabody.
Tuesday’s new rankings again featured a handful of rural West Tennessee clubs in their respective classifications.
McKenzie is fourth, Adamsville seventh and Humboldt ninth in Class 2A, while Camden (No. 4) joins Milan in the 3A listing.
Nearly half (4) of the Top 10 in Class 4A is made up of area clubs with Crockett County fourth, Liberty fifth, Jackson South Side eighth and Dyersburg No. 10.
Henry County took over the top spot in 5A after Knoxville Catholic lost to 6A No. 1 Farragut last Friday. Jackson North Side entered the Class 5A poll at 10th.
A complete listing of the rankings can be found on page 15.
Sports editor Mike Hutchens can be contacted by e-mail at mhutch@ucmessenger.com.

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