By KEVIN WEAKS
They’re ready. And, when the Golden Tornadoes play again, they’ll be rested, too.
Union City earned a week off and then a home game in the second round of the TSSAA Class 1A state playoffs with a mostly dominating 28-17 win over Humboldt Friday night.
“It doesn’t matter who we play,” UC head coach Darren Bowling said following the game. “We get them at home. And, we have that open week to heal. We’ll (practice) in shorts a couple days next week to get their legs back under them because it’s been a long season. There were a lot of things on the line for us tonight.”
The Twisters will next play on Nov. 9 against the Huntingdon-Lake County winner. Kick-off at War Memorial Stadium will be 7 p.m.
To get there, Union City had to beat the Vikings on two fronts.
First, the Twisters had to stop the most prolific running back in West Tennessee. With over 2,000 yards rushing on the season and fresh off a 300-plus game against Lake County the week before, Humboldt junior Nic McLilly posed a huge challenge for the improving but still questionable UC defense.
Forcing McLilly to the outside with pursuit from all angles and gang-tackling upon arrival, the Tornado defense grew up a lot in holding the Vikings’ biggest threat to just 65 yards on 22 carries.
In fact, Union City slammed the door on every Viking weapon by limiting Humboldt to just 128 yards on just 32 plays.
“That was as good a defensive effort as I’ve seen in two or three years here,” Bowling said. “I’m proud of how it’s coming together, and it’s coming together at the right time. I hope we can continue to gel and that chemistry continues to grow with those guys on defense.”
Part of Union City’s dominant play on defense was a direct result of its methodical consistency on offense.
Taking into consideration the wet field conditions — it had rained throughout West Tennessee for much of the day on Friday — and looking to limit Humboldt’s offensive snaps, Union City opted to rely almost exclusively on the fullback position.
Enter Ricky Henry.
His workload increased in recent weeks because of multiple injuries to starter Keylon Hyde, the up-and-coming sophomore far surpassed Humboldt’s team totals all on his own.
Henry carried 39 times or 172 yards, his two one-yard touchdown bursts in the third quarter putting UC ahead for good.
“People are going to get tired of seeing Ricky in the next couple of years,” Bowling said. “He’s grown years just this season filling in for Keylon. To me, he gets stronger every game. He’s starting to see the crease and to feel it. When the fullback starts to feel that, he’ll start hitting that for bigger plays, and Ricky did tonight.”
Henry was stopped for a loss only once and had only three plays go for 10 yards or more. But, his biggest run was one of Union City’s biggest plays a he broke loose for 46 yards on the first play of the second half to set up the go-ahead score.
Combined with 10 yards on four carries by Hyde, the fullback spot accounted for 43 of UC’s 62 plays and 182 of the team’s 346 total yards.
Khiry Lewis provided the speed, getting outside for 100 yards on just eight carries, including a 50-yard TD run on his first try.
“They were in a goal-line defense the whole game, a six-man front,” Bowling said. “So, we weren’t looking for big chunks. We were just looking for little chunks in there. And, we felt we could get the edge when we needed to, and we did on a couple of plays. We wanted to control the clock because of the conditions, and we wanted to keep their offense off the field. It’s tough to keep their guys from getting their yards, but we did.”
Union City showed its hand early, going to Henry on its first seven offensive snaps and then twice to Hyde to move from their own 19 to midfield. Lewis then ripped off his 50-yarder to put UC up at 4:26 of the first quarter.
Humboldt followed with a score, quarterback Jaylen Montegue turning a busted play into a 29-yard TD run just 61 seconds into the second period. The second quarter saw a series of mistakes conspire against UC. First, Troy Askew recovered a high punt snap in the end zone to put the Vikings ahead, and then a pair of penalties — one called and one waved off — moved Humboldt down for a 26-yard Daniel Blankenship field goal. UC was whistled for a questionable pass interference, and then an apparent illegal procedure penalty on the Vikings was waved off on an 11-yard pass completion that moved the ball down to UC’s 10-yard-line.
In between, though, UC went 80 yards on 13 plays, Lewis scoring on a 15-yard run.
“I just told them there was nothing to get down about because we gave them everything they had, us and the referees,” Bowling said of his halftime talk. “We gave them the touchdown with the snap over the punter’s head. They had one big play, and it was actually a broken play. It was supposed to be a counter, and the quarterback missed the tailback, so he just turned and took off running. Those two things — one play, and us snapping the ball over the punter’s head — were the only things that hurt us in the first half.”
A big run and a special teams play helped get UC back on track in the second half.
After Henry’s 46-yarder set up one score, Union City pulled off an onside kick to set up another. In all, the Twisters had two TDs and 14 offensive plays before Humboldt touched the ball. Through the second half, in fact, the Vikings had only 13 plays and 48 yards.
Published in The Messenger 10.29.12