By: Jim Steele
McKENZIE, Tenn. - McKenzie Middle School's football team went back to basics Thursday night in its 40-14 victory over West Carroll.
The Rebels established the run, played solid defense, capitalized on special teams and showed steady improvement as they improved to 3-1 overall, 2-1 in county play. McKenzie also had added incentive.
Last year, the War Eagles ended McKenzie's 16-game Carroll County winning streak with a 20-8 setback in Atwood. McKenzie opened this year's encounter with a punishing ground attack that covered 53 yards in four plays. Then the Rebs took advantage of two West Carroll turnovers and in an eyeblink, they were on top 24-0.
McKenzie coach Paul Carroll said he was pleased with his team's total effort and attention to all three phases of the game.
"We are trying to get the kids to focus in on taking care of responsibilities on offense, get after it on defense and play great special teams and no matter who you are playing you are going to win," said Carroll. "That's the idea. Don't focus on who you are playing; focus on the three facets of the ballgame, give 100 percent and you're going to come out on top."
West Carroll resorted to a bit of gimmickry to start the game. The War Eagles opened with an onside kick, which was recovered by McKenzie on its own 47. The Rebels gave the ball to Chase Norden, who powered his way on four successive plays to the end zone. He scored on a 3-yard burst with 6:23 to play in the first.
Norden had a good game, carrying seven times for 115 yards and two touchdowns. Carroll liked the fact that his team's running game is starting to come around.
"We've been working on that, trying to get that going and it opens up the rest of the offense," Carroll said. "It's good to have a game where you can establish the run and stay with it."
And he had praise for his runners.
"Norden ran the ball well, Isaiah ran will, and so did our fullback, Merrick," said Carroll. "And the seventh graders came in and moved the ball pretty well, so that was good."
On the next West Carroll possession, McKenzie's Jack Surber recovered a mishandled War Eagle punt snap in the end zone for the second TD of the night. Norden added the second of his three PAT runs and McKenzie led 16-0 with 4:37 to play in the first.
West Carroll coughed up the football on the first play of its next possession and Mitch Merrick scooped up the loose ball and raced 26 yards for the sixer. McKenzie led 24-0 with more than half of the first quarter to play.
The Rebels took over after a failed fourth-down conversion attempt and marched 32 yards in seven plays, ending in a Surber-to-Noah McEwen TD pass from 12 yards. Isaiah Townes tacked on the deuce and the rout was on, if it hadn't been already. The Rebels' score on the first play of the second quarter lifted them to a 32-0 lead.
West Carroll responded with an impressive six-play, 67-yard drive, ending in a 1-yard TD plunge from War Eagle quarterback Gavin Knight. The pass failed, but the War Eagles were on the board with 5:22 to play in the half.
The Rebels drove all the way down the West Carroll 8, but fumbled and the War Eagles ended the half with a 16-yard completion from Wright to Jace Williams to the WC 24. Wright was a bright spot for the War Eagles, completing all five passes he threw for 28 yards.
West Carroll drew closer to McKenzie and, for the moment, appeared to be back in the game after Williams rocketed 71 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown on the second play of the third quarter. Wright ran in the two and McKenzie's margin had been trimmed to 32-14.
The Rebels answered with a 55-yard scoring drive that ended when Norden sprinted to the pylon down the right side at the 5:00 mark of the third. Merrick ran in the two-pointer and McKenzie led 40-14.
McKenzie will visit Gleason next Thursday night in hopes of halting a two-game skid to the Bulldogs. West Carroll entertains the Trenton Bears Thursday. Kickoff for both games is 6:30 p.m.