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Buzz in air for second showdown

By James D. Horne jhorne@paducahsun.com

While it's just the second game between Paducah Tilghman and McCracken County, the air and atmosphere that surround the showdown at 7:30 tonight at McRight Field makes it seem like the two crosstown rivals have been playing for decades.

"There is a lot of excitement about the game," Tilghman first-year coach Mike Rogers said. "The coaches might not like how this has built up over the summer, but there's definitely a lot of excitement about the game and there's excitement coming from the fans, players and everybody involved about it. I'm sure that (McCracken County) coach (Jack) Haskins is like me and hopes the game gets here sooner than later."

Rogers knows a little something about coaching in area rivalries after spending five seasons at Graves County from 2004-08, going 34-22 there and the past five years as Warren Central, where he went 46-17. He knows this is a game that fans across the area are going to be tuned into.

"It's a big game," he said. "The great news is no matter what happens the season is not lost, because, unless you need it for a tie-breaker, it really doesn't affect you for the playoffs. But it's an important game for the fans in the community and the schools and for bragging rights and all that. And you do want to get off on a good foot and want to play well in your first outing."

Last year's first Blue Tornado-Mustangs game had plenty of thrilling moments of its own leading to Tilghman's 24-23 victory.

Some key highlights were the Tornado coming back from a 14-3 deficit and leading 24-17 in the fourth quarter. McCracken County scored but missed the extra point with 4:14 to play and had a last-second, game-winning pass attempt turn into a game-ending interception.

"That's what you expect out of games like this between two good teams," Rogers said. "I think we'll have those year to year. We just hope to come out on the good end again."

As a first-year coach, Rogers' biggest concern is installing his Wing-T offense. Even though it will be led by returning starting quarterback Jessie Dunigan and will rely on the experience of D.J. Sherrill at running back, the offense will be put to the test in real-game action for the first time.

"Things have gone really well, but like anywhere I've been it's a process," Rogers said. "One of my veteran assistant coaches said this week that sometimes it's a two-year process installing an offense. So we're still taking baby steps on some things. But we've really shown improvement the last couple of weeks and we're starting to develop a little bit of depth. We feel like we can be good in all phases of the game, because we have a good running back and quarterback and our receivers and tight ends are getting better. We feel like we'll be able to keep teams off balance."

Defensively, Rogers knows the challenge will be keeping McCracken County's Zyaire Hughes, a Kentucky commitment, and Rasheed Jones, among others, in check.

"That's for sure and they've got a lot of good players over there," he said. "Hughes is a big concern, because he can hurt you with his feet as well as by throwing it and you got to figure out how to cover him. They have quite a bit of depth over there, too, so with the heat we're kind of concerned about how that will play out."

Call James D. Horne, a Sun sports writer, at 270-575-8661 or follow on Twitter @psunsports.

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