By: Jim Steele
DRESDEN, Tenn. - If a casual football fan looked at the statistics of McKenzie's season opener at Dresden, he might have sought McKenzie Middle School coach Paul Carroll and offered to console him.
The Lions outgained the Rebels, held the ball three more minutes and had as many yards on the ground as they did through the air.
Final score? McKenzie 16, Dresden 12.
It was a big victory in that it was Paul Carroll's first as the Rebel mentor.
"They have a great team and they did a good job and with their offense, we really can't simulate it at practice," Carroll said. "They always have big, strong, tough kids and this is a good game to get us started."
The Rebels got it done through the air. Rebel quarterback Jack Surber had a big night, throwing for 128 yards and two touchdowns. One of those TD passes was caught by Jordan Haynes, who had a big night himself. In addition to his 42-yard scoring grab, he hauled in a two-point conversion, intercepted two passes and broke up another pass.
"Jack did a real good job tonight throwing the ball and making things happen. For Haynes, the sky's the limit for his ability. You have to get him going. If he's going, I doubt there's too many people who can handle him."
Defensively, linebacker Mitch Merrick was a vaccuum cleaner. He had 11 tackles to lead McKenzie's defense.
"Merrick is doing an outstanding job at middle linebacker for us," said Carroll. "He is one of those guys where if your defense comes out flat, he makes some big hits and they pick it up and gets the defense going. Merrick had a couple of big hits, woke a few people up and a couple of others made some big plays. He woke up the hole defense tonight and I'm pleased with Mr. Merrick."
The Rebels sputtered a bit at the beginning and struggled to run the ball. McKenzie managed a paltry 25 yards on the ground and managed just three snaps in the first quarter. The Lions moved the ball with consistency, using the sweep and the screen pass and finally broke through on the first play of the second frame.
"We have some good running backs, but we're not hitting our holes and following our blocks," the coach said. "We have some things to polish up, but we've spent all summer throwing the ball, so running is foreign to them right now."
Zach Cooper bolted up the middle of the field for a 35-yard TD burst with 7:52 to play in the second. The score capped a five-play, 50-yard drive. The conversion pass attempt failed and the Lions led 6-0. The Lions in ability to score extra points essentially doomed them.
"It's a little disappointing to start the season 0-1," said Dresden coach David Lewellen. "We couldn't make our extra points and that was the difference."
Carroll agreed: "The conversions were the difference in the ballgame."
The Rebels responded quickly as Surber guided them down the field. He hit Haynes for a 21-yard pass, then Chase Norden for a 20-yard connection, which camped the Rebs on the Lion 7. Two plays later, Chase Kelley broke open and hauled in Surber's pass from the 7. Haynes caught the deuce and the Rebels took the lead for good, 8-6, with 5:26 to play in the second.
McKenzie regained the ball with :35 to play in the half and marched to the 26 when the Lions picked off a pass at the goal line to end the half.
The Rebels backed up Dresden to its own 8 after a booming 40-yard punt by Kelley. The Lions were driving when Haynes picked off a pass on a fourth-down play. The Rebels turned the good fortune into six points. Two plays after the pick, Surber hit Haynes on the right side. He broke two tackles and outraced the secondary to the end zone with :32 to play in the third. He also caught the PAT pass and the Rebels made it a two-score margin, 16-6.
Dresden wouldn't go away quietly.
It rolled 52 yards in seven plays, ending in a 3-yard plunge from Cooper with 5:55 to play in the regulation. The conversion run failed and the Lions trailed 16-12.
McKenzie's Norden bolted 32 yards on the ensuing kickoff return, giving the Rebels all-important field position with little time left. After a futile drive, Kelley punted to the Lion 6 and Dresden was faced with moving 94 yards with under four minutes to play.
The Lions made it interesting, marching 11 plays into Rebel territory. But Norden came up with a big play, sacking Dresden quarterback Dresser Winn for a 5-yard loss. Then Haynes picked off his second pass of the night to end the threat and the game.
Winn had a big night for the Lions, completing 11-19 passes for 122 yards. Cooper had a big night on the ground, carrying 15 times for 81 yards. Quincey McDonald had six catches for 50 yards, Alex Warren had two grabs for 50.
McKenzie, 1-0, has a little time before it has to play its next game, but it's a big one. The Rebels battle Huntingdon on Thursday, Aug. 25. Oh, by the way, Carroll was Huntingdon's coach last year. He said the Rebels have the Mustangs attention.
"At the high school jamboree, I was on the field and was bombarded by about 50 kids and never got to the field," Carroll said. "They (Huntingdon) worked their tails off at the end of last season and they have some good kids. We have our work cut out for us."
McKenzie had defeated Dresden for the seventh straight time and currently owns a four-game streak over the Mustangs.
For game statistics, click on the "STATISTICS" link at the top of the page or click here.