By: Jim Steele
McKENZIE, Tenn. - McKenzie Middle School did manage a 36-32 victory over Hollow Rock-Bruceton Central in football action Thursday night.
It was by no means a masterpiece. But the Rebels don't play on canvas. They play on grass and as aesthetically unappealing as the game was, the result might as well have a work from Monet.
Quarterback Jack Surber was 5-11 for 122 yards and three touchdowns and Chase Norden ran for 67 yards on 15 carries, including the deciding TD with 1:28 to play in the game.
Not to be outdone, Zavain Johnson carried 11 times for 126 yards and had 115 return yards, including an 89-yard fumble return to put the Tigers on the board early in the first quarter.
This was one of those games tbat perhaps had both coaches reaching for the antacid. Combined, the two teams churned up 996 all-purpose yards.
"I'm glad we got the win, but boy that was ugly," said MMS coach Paul Carroll. "We're not playing to our abilities. We have guys who aren't playing responsibility on things like kickoffs. Some of them think on kickoffs it's a time to take a play off and you can't do that. We work on that every week in practice, but we're still doing the same things."
Carroll acknowledge the big-play capability of the Tigers, who snapped the ball 15 fewer times than McKenzie during the course of the game and held the ball for 12:10 as opposed to McKenzie's 19:50 possession time. Central had scoring plays of 89, 84, 66, 21 and 43 yards.
"They have guys who can take it to the house," said Carroll. "I don't care if it's fourth and 25, they have guys who can make the big plays."
McKenzie found out very early. With almost two minutes gone in the first, Johnsons scooped up a fumble and raced 89 yards for the score. On the last play of the first quarter, he took the ball on a sweep and darted 84 yards for another touchdown.
Sandwiched in between was a gutsy call on fourth down. McKenzie checked out of the punt and kicker Chase Kelley located Jordan Haynes for a 69-yard scoring pass to tie the game with 1:06 left in the first. That play was huge and may have, in a subtle way, set the tone the rest of the way. McKenzie might have been down two scores or more had it not converted on the play.
The Rebels took the lead when Surber found Haynes for a 45-yard scoring strikes. Norden bulled his way into the end zone and MMS led 14-12. The Tigers, two possessions later, used the quick-strike weaponry again. Ian Hoff hauled in a 66-yard TD pass from Chase Bratton with 2:19 left in the half. Central led 18-14.
And the ping pong game was on.
McKenzie responded when the Rebels went after a Central punt. Cameron Oakley rejected the kick and the Rebels camped at the Tiger 4. It took one play for Surber to locate Noah McEwen all alone in the end zone with :17 remaining in the half. McKenzie lead 20-18 at the break.
Central made use of a 17-yard punt return by Dusin Santiago and the Tigers pieced together a four-play, 39-yard drive that ended when Johnson sprinted 21 yards with :21 left in the third for the score. The Tigers jumped back in front 24-20.
McKenzie answered on the first play of the fourth quarter when Haynes made a circus catch from Surber, who was running for his life when he unoaded the ball. Haynes took it 30 yards to the house with 7:49 to play. Norden ran in the deuce and McKenzie led 28-24.
The Tigers volleyed back with a 43-yard run from Hoff at the 5:23 mark in the fourth. He added the two-pointer and Central led 32-28.
McKenzie ate up almost four minutes and scored with under 90 seconds to play in the game. Norden's juggernaut run with 1:28 left, and subsequent deuce, put the Rebels up 36-32. But the Tigers had time for one last march.
The Rebels stepped up with big defensive plays. Oakley and Norden combined for a tackle-for-loss. Then the Tigers hurt themselves with a motion penalty. On a fourth-down play, Julius Owens knocked down a scrambling Hoff, who was looking for a covered Johnson downfield. The Rebels stopped Central and ran out the clock.
"I don't want to end the game with a defensive stand, but at the same time, it's a great growing experience for this team," Carroll said. "I think it was a great confidence builder for this team to make plays."
Mitch Merrick had seven carries for 32 yards. Kenon Hutcherson carried one time for 3 yards, but left the game early in the first with what appeared to be a broken wrist. Haynes had three catches for 130 yards and two TDs.
Carroll said he liked the offensive production.
"Offensively, we are moving the ball better," he said. "The running game has to open up and that opens up our passing game."
Hoff had two catches for 66 yards to lead the Tigers. Johnson had 241 all-purose yards. Bratton was 2-4 with two picks for 66 yards.
Defensively, Chase Kelly had two interceptions for the Rebels. Bransen McCaleb had a fumble recovery and a tackle for loss. Jeremiah Bailey led the defense with five stops, one for loss. Owens had four tackles, one for loss.
Cody Knuutila had six tackles and a sack to lead Central. Johnson had a fumble recovery and Logan Belew had an interception.
"The big plus is that we were down and we kept playing," Carroll said. "It wasn't great, it wasn't 100 percent, but we kept playing. That's something we'll focus on."
The Rebels, 2-1, 1-1, host West Carroll 6:30 Thursday, Sept. 8. The Tigers, 1-2, 0-1, visit Trinity Christian on Sept. 8.