By KEVIN WEAKS
Union City could have been excused for having a sluggish scrimmage against McKenzie on Friday night. Perhaps even forgiven.
Despite coming off a grueling week of preseason camp in Columbia, the Golden Tornadoes were just fine in their two-hour duel at the Rebels’ practice field on Friday night.
UC showed off a sturdy defensive front and featured several different players in its run-oriented offense to put up six touchdowns while limiting McKenzie to two late scores.
The teams played down-and-distance throughout the workout, each team getting nine possessions.
“My legs are gone, so I know theirs are, too,” UC head coach Darren Bowling said of his troops. “They had that excuse, but those things are just part of the game. You still have to compete, and our guys did a good job of being mentally tough.”
The scrimmage allowed for offenses to retain the ball if they suffered a turnover early in the possession or went three-and-out.
Still, Union City forced the Rebels — dropped passes also were no help to the home team — to punt away their first five possessions. McKenzie failed on a fourth-down attempt after driving to the Twisters’ 20-yard line its sixth time with the ball and then gave up an interception that was returned for a TD on the seventh.
The Rebels finally scored on their eighth and ninth series, getting a 40-yard TD pass and then taking advantage of a pass interference call to cross the goal line on a five-yard run.
By that time, however, the Twisters had already scored three times and seen a fourth touchdown called back on a holding penalty.
UC then followed each McKenzie score with one of its own, showing both power and speed that are expected to be key ingredients to success this season.
“I thought we really flew to the ball on defense,” Bowling said. “I was proud of the way we played on defense. We came out and shut them down the first five or six times they had the ball. So, probably the highlight for us so far has been our defense looking as good as it has.”
The offense was quick to take advantage of the defense’s possession flips.
Keylon Hyde broke off a 40-yard run and followed with a 13-yard TD burst on Union City’s first possession, and then he added a 70-yard scoring jaunt on the Twisters’ third try. In between, UC was stopped as a holding flag negated a 55-yard scoring sprint around the right side by Keontre Murrell.
A punt and a fumble stopped UC’s next two chances, and then the Tornadoes fumbled away early in their sixth series. Allowed to keep the ball, Union City capitalized as quarterback Travis Rutland carried for 20 yards and then pitched to Murrell for 30 more and a score.
“Something that has to get better for us is ball control,” Bowling said of the fumbles. “We rolled in a lot of backs and quarterbacks, so those things will happen until we begin to gel with a regular group.”
Ricky Henry capped a vintage Union City grind-it-out scoring drive with a three-yard plunge, and then he ended the workout with a 70-yard sprint to the end zone.
“We had several big plays, and I was glad to see that,” Bowling said. “But, I told the guys that I’d also like to see a long, drawn-out drive to show we could maintain a series and not fumble. So, I was pleased to see that aspect as well.”
Union City’s next action will be at the annual Huntingdon jamboree on Friday, playing West Carroll in the fourth of four sessions.
Published in The Messenger 8.6.12