By: Jim Steele
HOLLOW ROCK-BRUCETON, Tenn. - In a sport where a team is measured by the strides it makes on a weekly basis, the McKenzie Middle School Rebels seem to be getting better and better.
Thursday night, the Rebs captured an 18-6 victory over host Hollow Rock-Bruceton Central to go 3-0 and 2-0 in the county football race.
Rebel coach Brad Chappell said improvement is something they've talked about since pre-season camp.
"Our goal, and one of the thigns I preach every day, is that we get better," he said. "I think we played better than we did last week and we are still leaving a lot of plays on the field. We have a lot to work on and I guarantee our kids won't be bored at practice."
The Rebels were pretty balanced against the Tigers. They ran for 105 yards and threw for 101. Quarterback Janson Davis was 4-12 for 101 yards and a touchdown. His first TD heave was a beauty to a wide-open Keenan Taylor, who rocketed the rest of the way for a 30-yard hookup with 4:43 to play in the first. That play was set up by Gus Glass and Mitchell Lunn, who sacked the Central punter for an 8-yard loss to the Tiger 30. One play later, the Rebels were in front.
Brandon Barger picked off two passes, one a circus interception of a pass deflected by Tyree Owens. Those were huge and ended Tiger marches.
Late in the half, the Rebels took possession on their own 26 with 1:48 to play. They needed just 1:41 to zip 74 yards for a touchdown.
Davis hit Taylor on a huge 28-yard completion, then found Noah Lowrance for a 24-yard aerial. Lowrance got out of bounds to stop the clock. That allowed Owens to canvass the remaining 3 yards for the score with :07 left. McKenzie led 12-0 at the half.
"We weren't expected to be an offensive juggernaut, but we have some weapons," said Chappell. "That drive right before the half was huge."
Central's first drive of the second half netted just 2 yards. The Tigers punted and the Rebels were able to begin their third scoring drive of the night. The Rebels took advantage of a late-hit call and rolled 57 yards for the score. Holden Stanfill scored from the 9 with 3:04 to play in the third for an 18-0 lead.
The Tigers seemed to raise the stakes in the second half and came out very physical. But McKenzie was physical, too, especially on defense. Central runners would hit the seam hard, only to be met at the line of scrimmage just as hard by MMS defenders.
"I was pleased with our defense. We were physical and we really got after it," said Chappell. "It was a team effort. Everybody got after it."
Central was limited to a scant 44 yards on the night.
"One of the things we've emphasized the last two weeks is defense and we're very defensive minded," said the coach. "One of the things we've done the past couple of weeks is practiced defense and it's hard to beat us if you can't score. We were able to piece together some drives and get field position."
The Tigers' Calen Willis returned a punt 45 yards to the McKenzie 20 with 4:31 to play. But they needed 3:17 to move the ball 20 yards. Andrew Willis scored from the 5 with 1:14 to play.
McKenzie's Isaiah Townes returned the ensuing kickoff 6 yards, then carried three more exciting times for 27 yards which ended the game.
"Isaiah Townes ran the ball well. He has some speed and he gets up in there and gets lost," Chappell said. "He can tote the mail."
McKenzie has been a bit banged up and short-handed recently. Breshawn Oglesby suffered a broken collarbone in the first quarter against Huntingdon last week and may be available by the end of the season. Taylor suffered an arm ailment that is not believed to be serious.
There were a few other bumps and bruises after Thursday night. But Chappell says they know injuries will play a role, so they adjust for it the best they can.
"Breshaun has a broken collarbone. I think Keenan is going to be okay. It's part of what we do. We practice more than 11 people," he said. "We tell our kids the team we have in August will look different from the team we have in October, so we practice for that and plan for that. We try to see, in practice, that if we lose someone, can someone else come in and do the job."
Tyree Owens had seven carries for 72 yards to lead the Rebels. Holden Stanfill had seven tackles, including a sack and a stop for a loss. Brennan Marr and Bryant Comer each had three tackles, each one for a loss. Jacob Birdwell had two tackles and blocked a pass. Taylor had three catches for 77 yards and a touchdown.
Calen Willis had five returns for 117 yards to go with his 30 rushing yards. DeMathis Parker had four tackles and a sack. Andrew Willis had three tackles and broke up two passes.
McKenzie visits West Carroll 6:30 Thursday, Sept. 9. If MMS can take down the War Eagles, they will win the county championship and have a winning season, both for the sixth striaght year.