By MIKE HUTCHENS
Messenger Sports Editor
Repeat or revenge?
When fourth-ranked Huntingdon journeys to No. 8 Union City and War Memorial Stadium for the second time this season for Friday’s Class 1A second round state playoff game, the Mustangs will be looking to duplicate an earlier victory.
The Golden Tornadoes, meanwhile, have intentions of avenging a 16-point loss.
Which team has the advantage in such rematches largely depends on which coach one asks.
“I think it’s hard to beat a good team twice in the same season,” Huntingdon head coach Eric Swenson said. “Homefield advantage is huge, I think, especially in a tight game.
“In the playoffs especially, I think you always want to be in familiar surroundings with a big home crowd. That might just be me wishing we were playing at home and believing we should be after what happened earlier.”
Darren Bowling offered another perspective.
“They obviously came here before and beat us, and I’m sure that gives them confidence they can do it again,” the Union City skipper said. “We’ll obviously have to play better than we did the first time, and Huntingdon is hitting on all cylinders and playing with a lot of confidence right now.
“I don’t know that playing them before is necessarily an advantage for either team because it’s been so long ago. I know that it seems like on all levels that the underdog has a better chance the second time around, so anything that helps my odds, I’m for it.”
In that first meeting this season, the Purple and Gold simply had no answer for Huntingdon quarterback Jacob Warbritton, who ran for 207 yards and two touchdowns and threw for 109 yards and two more scores in a 38-22 Mustang victory that was resumed on a Saturday evening after being delayed late in the first period on Friday by inclement weather.
Union City came into that game unbeaten and ranked No. 2 in the state after three games, while Huntingdon was likewise perfect and No. 3.
Playoff rematches are nothing new between Huntingdon and UC — or for Bowling personally.
The Mustangs and Tornadoes will be playing for the second time in a season for the fifth time Friday.
The most recent of those occasions was in 2009 when Huntingdon beat Union City 44-35 in Week 3 — the same time of the season the two played this year — before the Twisters won the rematch in the Class 1A quarterfinals, 30-7, in their run to the Single-A state championship.
The two programs also met twice in 1997, ’99 and 2000. UC won both meetings in ’97 and 2000 on its way to the 2A title games, with the Mustangs avenging a regular season loss in ’99 while moving on to the Double-A championship contest.
Friday’s game will also represent the fourth time in Bowling’s five-year UCHS tenure that he will face a team in the playoffs that he played during the regular season.
Last year, Union City erased the pain of a 52-46 regular season loss to Lake County — when it turned the ball over five times — with a 42-33 second-round playoff victory when it rallied from a three-touchdown deficit in the first half.
In that ’09 Huntingdon-Union City rematch, the locals put the clamps on Mustang running backs Kennon Holder and Brittian Thompson — limiting them to 154 yards combined after they’d torched the Twisters for 358 yards between them when the Ponies stormed back from a big deficit with 30 unanswered points.
And in Bowling’s first year on the Tornado sideline, McKenzie was repeat visitor to War Memorial Stadium after a 21-16 UC regular season win with the Rebels claiming a last-minute 17-14 triumph in a Round 2 rematch.
In essentially every instance, the team that has committed the fewer turnovers and had less penalties and mental mistakes has won the second meetings.
While many UC fans are drawing a hopeful parallel to three years ago when the two teams last met a second time in the same season, the UC coach isn’t.
“It’s totally different than in ’09 because the players on both teams are different,” he said. “Now, would I like for the results to be the same as they were that year? Heck yeah.”
Both teams appear to be at full strength, with Swenson saying his troops “are excited and playing as well as we have all year. I think it’s going to be a knock-down-drag-out between two of the very few teams who still do it the old-school way, the right way, and run the football.
“We might bring up what happened three years ago in the same situation, but we’ll do it in such a way that we have a chance to change the results when it matters most this time around. We’re ready to play.”
Bowling echoed Swen-son’s belief that the matchup will be “a throwback,” calling it an expected “dogfight.”
“We’re as healthy as we’ve been since early in the season, and everybody is ready to go. I just hate it that it’s a second-round game, because I believe both teams are among the best three or four in the state.”
Now that’s something both coaches can agree upon.
Sports editor Mike Hutchens can be contacted by email at email@example.com.
Published in The Messenger 11.7.12