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UC still in title hunt with win over SF; Redmen await fate

UC still in title hunt with win over SF; Redmen await fate
UC still in title hunt with win over SF; Redmen await fate | UC still in title hunt with win over SF; Redmen await fate
By MIKE HUTCHENS
Messenger Sports Editor
For decidedly different reasons, both Union City and South Fulton are looking forward to the final week of the regular season.
The Golden Tornadoes will play Humboldt for the District 14A championship, while the Red Devils must wait to discover their playoff status until after all results are recorded next week in the aftermath of UC’s 28-26 victory over SF Friday night.
Though both teams have four overall wins and are each under .500, Union City took a giant step toward the postseason by beating the Redmen for the 12th time in 13 all-time meetings and second time in as many seasons by a margin of less than a touchdown.
South Fulton, meanwhile, must now sit and wait anxiously through next week’s open date — its on-the-bubble standing of qualifying for the 24-team Class 1A field officially unknown until all Week 10 games are completed.
While the Twisters (4-5) would gain one of the league’s two automatic berths to the state playoffs and a top seed in the West quadrant by upsetting fifth-ranked (Class 2) H’boldt this week, the Purple and Gold likely will still qualify as a wildcard entry even if it loses to the Vikings. Union City, which edged the Red Devils 24-20 in Week 10 a year ago to gain postseason entry, would hold any advantage over SF in a tie-breaker this year by virtue of its narrow victory Friday.
South Fulton (4-6) can only get in as a wildcard.
Bruising Tornado fullback Keylon Hyde — who went over the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the second straight season — hammered the interior of the Red Devil defense for 178 yards and two touchdowns on 35 carries in their critical Week 9 matchup.
UC had to hold on at the end, however, unable to exhale until Khiry Lewis — one of two transfers from South Fulton on the Tornado roster — intercepted a JaQuay Garmon pass at the Union City 12 with just over a minute left to preserve the victory.
“For us to have the opportunity to play for the district championship in the last game of the regular season after all the injuries, the freshmen and sophomores we’ve had to play, and things we’ve been through is amazing,” Twister head coach Darren Bowling said of his team that has lost handily to four state-ranked clubs and 6-3 Lake County.
“We didn’t have our quarterback for the first four weeks, we used five different centers the first five games, and I’ve lost count at how many kids we’ve had to play who had no varsity experience. It’s a tribute to our kids, the way they’ve persevered and continued to work hard and improve that we have the opportunity we have next week and now have a good chance at getting into the playoffs. I’m thrilled for them.”
On the other side of the field, South Fulton’s Kelly Spivey kept his team on the field for an extended postgame huddle, then discussed the Devils’ uncertain fate.
“You can’t get any closure after a game like this with where we’ve put ourselves,” he said after SF lost its third straight and continued a trend of stumbling down the stretch during his four seasons at the helm. “We’ll practice next week and be prepared if we get into the playoffs. We’re going to be right there, I think, but nothing’s for certain.”
There were a handful of momentum changes in the game, starting with a pretty 66-yard touchdown pass from Garmon to Harrison Hawks on the Devils’ first snap from scrimmage that put the host team immediately in front.
Union City seized an edge itself when Tymaine Strickland — the other former-Red Devil-turned-Tornado — ripped what should’ve been an interception away from Garmon and turned it into a 63-yard pass reception that set up the Travis Rutland’s four-yard TD keeper and got the visitors on the scoreboard on the ensuing possession after South Fulton had taken the lead.
After UC then dominated the rest of the first half and took a 22-7 lead into the intermission on the strength of a pair of short scoring plunges by Hyde, the Redmen got ‘ol mo’ back on their side by cutting into their deficit with two touchdowns in the first 5:19 of the second half — the second after Ryan Prince recovered an onside kick following Garmon’s one-yard TD.
J.P. Fowler then capped a quick five-play drive to paydirt with a 19-yard scoring scamper and SF was within 22-20.
There was another shift when Union City rode Hyde — a true workhorse who had seven straight rushes in one Twister sequence and carried 10 times in another 12-play scoring march — to a 28-20 lead. Devin Burnside’s 19-yard scoring sprint with a minute left in the third period capped a 61-yard sequence that took up nearly six minutes for a Tornado team that dominated time of possession with 63 plays to 39 for the Big Red. 
South Fulton was undaunted, though, scoring on its third straight offensive sequence of the second half to get within the final margin with 9:32 to play on a Hawks six-yard run. A 48-yard heave from Garmon to Fowler on 3rd-and-23 down a wide-open center of the field set up the TD. Garmon’s game-tying two-point conversion pass intended for Fowler was broken up by Joseph Shanks to keep the Twisters in front.
UC threatened to put the game away with another time-consuming march that featured a battering Hyde and reached the SF 11 with just over two minutes left.
Garmon picked off Rutland on fourth down in the endzone, though, returning the interception to the five, to give his team a final hope.
Another long completion to Fowler — this one covering 45 yards down the gut — advanced the ball to midfield. A critical holding penalty and two Garmon incompletions preceded Lewis’ game sealing pick.
“When you have a young football team, it can go from pretty good, to pretty bad real quick,” Bowling added. “The momentum was huge for both teams, I thought, and it swung both ways.
“We were in good shape at the half, but South Fulton came out and had a good kick return, got a touchdown and then immediately got the ball back with the onside kick. It was a ballgame after that.”
Spivey said he “challenged their manhood” in his halftime talk with his team and liked the results over the final two quarters.
“We didn’t do much right in the first half, but I was really proud of our effort and how physical we were in the second half,” the coach said. “Their fullback was tough for us to stop — he was just falling forward and getting three yards a pop.
“I felt like  if we could ever get some protection, we could throw the ball, and we did.”
Fowler was the Devils’ top offensive threat with 100 yards rushing and another 93 receiving.
Lewis — attacking the flanks and edges — gave UC a second 100-yard rusher and was the perfect complement to Hyde with 117 yards on 10 carries.
Michael Dysart had a game-high 10 tackles to pace the Tornado defense, those numbers including a sack and another tackle behind the line.
Kendall Greer topped the hit chart for SF with seven.
Garmon went over 1,000 yards passing for the year after throwing for 160 and has accounted for more than 400 of that over the past two weeks.
Sports editor Mike Hutchens can be contacted by e-mail at mhutch@ucmessenger.com.
Published in The Messenger 10.24.11

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