By: Jim Steele
HUNTINGDON, Tenn. - For the McKenzie Rebels middle school football team, the best thing about its game with Huntingdon is that it's over.
For the first time since 2004, Huntingdon claimed victory over McKenzie in a 48-14 rout. The Mustangs gained 243 yards on the ground and had 452 all-purpose yards against the Rebels. Huntingdon made it very apparent after its first drive that it was in control of the game.
Meanwhile, McKenzie looked flat and, at times, sluggish against a team that wanted to prove something to its old coach. MMS coach Paul Carroll left Huntingdon in late July to take the McKenzie job after Brad Chappell resigned the post for an assistant athletic director's job at Bethel University.
Carroll knew Huntingdon might have some incentive showing up the old coach, but he was displeased with his team's effort and intensity.
"The one thing we preached all week was that the physical team will win. I told them if we stand up, it's over," Carroll said. "We had to be aggressive and weren't. But we had one guy being aggressive and 10 others watching. We didn't give our best effort, they did and you can see what happened."
McKenzie had a pretty good push in its first drive, but it sputtered, allowing Huntingdon to acquire possession and make its first march to the end zone. The Mustangs put together a 12-play, 77-yard drive, ending in Justin Miller's 3-yard run. It was the first of his three scores on the night. That gave Huntingdon a 6-0 lead with 6:34 left in the second quarter. The Rebels struggled to stop the run, particularly in that opening drive, as the Mustangs had eight plays of 5 yards or more.
Just under three minutes later, Miller scored from the 2 for a 14-0 Mustang lead.
McKenzie answered with an impressive 50-yard play of its own, kept alive by a 31-yard, fourth-down completion from Jack Surber to Jordan Haynes. Chase Norden, from the 5, two plays later, was met hard at the line of scrimmage by Huntingdon's Jayden Williams, but he bounced off of the fierce hit and powered his way into the end zone. Norden ran through the left side for the conversion and McKenzie was back in the game, trailing 14-8 with 1:34 to play in the half.
As quickly as McKenzie clawed its way back, Huntingdon answered with a demoralizing play. Zach Dodson returned the ensuing kickoff 81 yards for the touchdown. Macon Bullock scored the PAT and Huntingdon led 22-8. On McKenzie's next possession, Bullock intercepted a Rebel pass to the 24 where, on the next play, he hit Miller for a TD. In a span of 43 seconds, McKenzie went from six down to 20 down and had to kick to Huntingdon to start the second half.
"They have some exceptional athletes. That's why you have to work special teams, and we have," Carroll said. "We work on covering lanes and containment, but that broke down tonight. If your special teams break down and your defense doesn't do what you coached all week, it doesn't matter what your offense does. It's a tough situation to be in."
Things got ugly as the second half began.
On the opening kick of the second half, Dodson was met by a wall of Rebels and the blast dislodge the ball.
McKenzie recovered and appeared to be in business, but a controversial, and some say phantom, facemask call nullified the play and the recovery. A series of outbursts following the facemask flag prompted two unsportsmanlike calls and the Mustangs were essentially awarded a 45-yard penalty.
It didn't take long for the MUstangs to turn the fortune into points, especially after being camped on the Reb 30 to start the drive. Ben Clifft scampered 21 yards for the score three plays later for a 34-8 lead.
McKenzie responded with a six-play, 57-yard drive at the 4:15 mark, culminating with a 21-yard run from Norden. The run failed and McKenzie trailed 34-14.
But the Mustangs tacked on two more TDs, one with 1:20 to play in the third by Austin Russell and the other early in the fourth, a 25-yard romp from Dodson.
In a game that was displeasing for the fans of the red and gray, there were some silver linings. McKenzie ran the ball much better. Norden carried 15 times for 91 yards and two scores. And while the aerial attack was a bit erratic at times with timing issues and receivers not finishing routes, the Rebels still managed 56 yards through the air.
Mitch Merrick led the Rebels with seven tackles. Chase Kelley had five.
Dodson led the Mustangs with six carries for 73 yards and was one of seven to tote the mail. Four Mustang ballcarriers had 40 yards or more. Dodson also had 145 return yards, including the 81-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
Jonah Davis, Williams combined for a sack while Trevor Pritchard recorded a sack. Ethan Ellis led HMS with four stops. Miller broke up a pass. Chase Jones had two stops for losses.
McKenzie will entertain Hollow Rock-Bruceton Central for its home opener on Sept. 1. Kickoff is 6:30 p.m.
"This game is overwith and behind us and I told the kids we have to work on being 5-and-0 the rest of the way," said Carroll. "That's our goal, to finish out 5-and-0. What we showed tonight wasn't our best and I want to see our best. That's my job as a coach is to get that done."
Click on the "STATISTICS" link under the headlines for complete game stats.