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Mustangs ride old school ways

Mustangs ride old school ways

By MIKE HUTCHENS
Messenger Sports Editor
COOKEVILLE — Old school — from its single-wing offense to its fans’ throwback-style milk jug shakers filled with rocks — Huntingdon is living proof that some things never go out of style.
Don’t expect them to change with the Mustangs.
“It’s who we are,” Huntingdon head coach Eric Swenson said Friday afternoon after his team’s heartbreaking 21-20 loss to No. 1-ranked Gordonsville in the Class 1A Blue Cross Bowl state championship game.
“Our kids and our town are both amazing. Our kids would play hard and our fans would turn out if we were 0-9 and it was the last game of the season. That’s not ever going to change.”
In an era of spread offenses with pass-happy schemes and video-game statistics and scores, Huntingdon has continued to thrive with tried and true methods.
A physical smash-mouth offense that is a variance of the old Notre Dame box and an adoring fan base left the city virtually a ghost town Friday while cheering on the Ponies. They left the Tennessee Tech University campus disappointed, but not ready for wholesale changes after the narrow title game loss.
“We got beat by a great football team that has a lot of the same beliefs that we do,” Swenson said of the Tigers, who themselves drew a throng of fans from their humble hometown. “A lot of people make a big deal out of what we do and how simple it is, but Gordonsville didn’t run a lot other than power and trap — they just did it out of different formations.
“And I think there was a reason us two were the last two single-A teams standing. We might not do a lot, but we do it right — and well.”
The runnerup finish was the Mustangs’ fourth in five state title game appearances. Huntingdon won a 2A championship in 2003.
Gordonsville stuffed Mr. Football Back of the Year candidate Jacob Warbritton on a two-point conversion with 1:35 to play to preserve its triumph.
Swenson never hesitated when making the decision to go for the win rather than a tie after Glynn Hilliard’s 34-yard touchdown run drew the fifth-ranked Mustangs within the final score.
“I might get hammered for it, but it’s always been my philosophy to go for the win in a situation like that,” the coach continued. “We had the right play and it was a good call, they just were able to stop it that one time.”
The deciding defensive stand capped a wild fourth quarter that saw Huntingdon break a 7-all tie with a Warbritton nine-yard run before Gordonsville scored back-to-back TDs, the second after missing a two-point conversion that left the Tigers behind by a point. G’ville then recovered an onside kick to set up its second score.
“We got hosed on the onside kick (non)-call, it only went eight yards,” Swenson said. “But we should’ve attacked it instead of waiting for it to come to us.”
Warbritton temporarily set a state single season rushing with 3,082 yards after gaining 163 in 34 carries. That mark was reset less than seven hours later in the Class 5A championship game by Beech’s Jaylen Hurd who ran for 394 yards and seven TDs and ended his junior campaign with 3,357 yards.
And just because Warbritton is part of a 11-member senior class at Huntingdon that will graduate and leave the program, don’t expect the Mustangs — nor the town — to change its M.O.
“I think our players believe in what we do, because I believe in it so strongly,” Swenson said. “They and our fans have always taken great pride in playing a physical brand of football.
“A lot of things come and go, but some things withstand the test of time. And I just don’t see us ever changing who we are.”
There’s obviously no need to.

Published in The Messenger 12.3.12

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