By: Jim Steele
GLEASON, Tenn. - McKenzie's Chase Norden must have taken his team's two-game losing streak to host Gleason personally.
Norden carried 16 times for 180 yards and scored a touchdown and ran in three two-point conversions as McKenzie halted its skid with Gleason, 32-14.
McKenzie faced a usually-charged up Gleason team, who kept pace for three quarters with the Rebels. But McKenzie's defense picked up the pace in the final frame and the offense was only stopped once in the second frame.
"And we stopped ourselves," said McKenzie coach Paul Carroll, of the red-zone opportunity that went by the boards in the second quarter. The Rebels suffered a dropped pass on fourth down mid way in the second frame. McKenzie had the ball five times and scored four of those five times.
In some respects, the score was closer than indicated, given Gleason's predictable intensity. But the game may have been more one-sided than the score indicated. Had McKenzie scored on the missed opportunity, McKenzie might have led 16-6 at the half instead of 8-6. In any case, McKenzie took care of the football and methodically marched down the field.
"We lost our punter, Chase Kelley, today, who got hurt today in school," said Carroll. "The good thing is, we didn't have to punt tonight; I was hoping we could move the ball down the field and we did that tonight."
Norden was a beast, but McKenzie kept the Gleason defense honest by running Mitch Merrick at fullback, where he was pretty effective. He carried six times for 26 yards and a touchdown.
"Chase Norden and Mitch Merrick did a great job tonight running the football," said the coach. "As far as the offense goes, I feel like we executed much better than we have and I'm hoping that's a continual thing and I'm hoping we can take that into next week."
Next week, the Rebels visit Milan Tuesday night at Johnnie Hale Stadium. MMS hasn't beaten Milan in four years.
Thursday, the Rebels halted a two-year skid, but it wasn't easy. Gleason grabbed the momentum early, recovering an onside kick on the opening kickoff and taking it straight to the end zone, using an effective jet-sweep plan. The Bulldogs marched 50 yards in eight plays, ending in Tracy Perry's 9-yard TD jaunt with 3:37 remaining in the first. The try for two failed, but Gleason appeared to be on its way to topping the Rebs for a third straight year.
But the Rebels responded with a drive of their own. Norden set up Reb quarterback Jack Surber's 15-yard scoring burst with a 39-yard run to the 5 when McKenzie was assessed a block-in-the-back flag. Surber scored from the 15 on he next play and Norden ran the first of his three deuces to boost MMS into the lead, 8-6 a minute after the Gleason score.
"When they could have taken full momentum of the game, we took it down the field and scored and took momentum back," said the coach. "We definitely got back in the ballgame and made it a ballgame."
The score didn't change until the first possession of the second half, when Gleason scored on Perry's 3-yard run with 5:48 to play in the third. Ryan Cole tacked on the two-point conversion, and Gleason was back in front 14-8.
"Defensively, we're getting there. We have to get some things corrected," Carroll said. "They have a great offense, but they didn't just run over us. But their coaching staff and coach (Noah) Lampkins does an excellent job and with that offense, you better blow them off the ball every play or you better play sound defense because they are going to move the ball."
McKenzie responded by scoring three touchdowns without reply. With 3:24 to play in the third, Surber located Jordan Haynes, who created separation from a Gleason defender, for an 11-yard TD aerial. The Rebels led 16-14. Gleason turned the ball over on downs with 17 second remaining in the third. McKenzie opened the fourth with a 70-yard burst from Norden to the Bulldog 9. Three plays later, Norden added six more to the score with a 3-yard plunge. MMS led 24-14.
Surber picked off a Gleason pass and guided the Rebels down the field for their final score of the night, a 3-yard surge from Merrick with 1:50 remaining. Surber then hit Isaiah Townes in back left corner of the end zone for the two. That was pretty much that.
Gleason snapped the ball 34 times, but was 1-3 on fourth down, suffered an interception and punted once. Perry carried 16 times for 56 yards. Cole had seven totes for 83 yards. Cole had seven tackles, one for loss. Perry had six stops. Carson Stafford had four tackles.
Meanwhile, Merrick had 10 tackles to lead the Rebels. Jordan Haynes had five stops, one for loss. Dejan McNulty also had five tackles. Surber was 2-5 for 29 yards. Jeremiah Bailey had one catch for 18 yards and Haynes had one for 11.
McKenzie improves to 4-1.