By: Jim Steele
MILAN, Tenn. - McKenzie Middle School did what it needed to do and did so in a big way as it dispatched host Milan 34-16 Tuesday night.
The Rebels softened Milan up on the ground early, used defense to tack on another score then went airborne. Rebel quarterback Jack Surber had the hot hand, completng six of seven passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns.
Defensively, the Rebels did a job, too. Milan didn't cross midfield until the third quarter, when it also earned its first first down of the game. Milan tacked on two cosmetic scores in the fourth quarter, but the issue was well in hand for McKenzie by then.
Rebel coach Paul Carroll said he liked the offensive diversity his team demonstrated.
"We had more of a balanced game tonight," said Carroll. "When you play Milan, you game-plan all you want, but you can't do much with that speed; but we started off real well, we were real physical and hit it inside on them, bounced it outside and mixed it up with the pass."
The Rebels stopped Milan on downs during the first possession and quickly marched 47 yards in five plays for the first score. The Rebs were able to move the ball at will and Mitch Merrick got the call from the 2 for the score at the 3:51 mark. On the next Milan possession, Dejan McNulty dislodged the football from Milan quarterback Landon Walker. McKenzie's Josh Pruitt picked it up and dashed 15 yards for the TD at the 2:02 mark. McKenzie led 12-0.
The Rebels got a quick jump on Milan and Carroll was worried his team might suffer some sort of attention deficit.
"When we got up on Milan like that, I think we were in shock a little bit and I was worried we were going to lose focus a little bit," he said. "But we kept our composure, then we were able to get our young guys in and get them experience."
The Rebels tacked on two more scores in the second period, largely after Surber started going topside. He completed his first five passes and had 51 passing yards. He hit Jordan Haynes for 16-yard TD, followed by Merrick's two-point run. Then, during the Rebels' next possession, he hit Merrick for a 7-yard pass, then Noah McEwen for a 28-yard strike which camped them at the Milan 7. Two plays later, Surber called his own number from the 2 for a 26-0 lead.
McKenzie added another score for good measure in the third quarter when it took the opening kick 67 yards for the score. Surber hit Haynes for a 38-yard TD with 3:39 to play. Norden ran in the deuce and the Rebels led Milan 34-0.
The Rebels inserted reserves after the score and Milan drove 79 yards in 14 plays that took 7:50. Milan managed its first first down of the game at the end of the third and moved the ball beyond the midfield stripe for the first time.
Walker's 11-yard run with 4:32 to play shattered the shut out. Kendrick Champion's conversion run cut McKenzie's lead to 34-8. The Bulldogs took over after a punt and Lemartez Brooks romped 44 yards on the first play for the TD. He added the two to finalize the score. From there, McKenzie ran out the clock.
Carroll said he was pleased with his team's defense. Merrick had seven tackles, two for loss, to lead the MMS defense. Bransen McCaleb had five tackles. Dejan McNulty had three tackles, but was otherwise busy. All his tackles resulted in a loss, he had two quarterback hurries, caused a fumble and blocked a punt.
"A good defense is the key to a good team," Carroll said. "We had a couple of games when our defense looked so-so, and it's good to come out against Milan and have your defense play well. We can take this into the next game and build on it."
The Rebels have Camden next. McKenzie fell behind 20-0 in the first quarter at Camden last year and scored 26 unanswered points. The Rebs carried Camden to overtime and won 32-26 to qualify for post-season. Kickoff is 6:30 Tuesday, Sept. 27 at Rebel Field.