By: Jim Steele
McKENZIE, Tenn. - Thursday night, Huntingdon Middle School's football fortunes, and McKenzie's for that matter, too, may have hinged on one early drive.
Host McKenzie moved the ball down the field with relative ease and marched all the down to the Mustang 10. The Rebels missed a TD pass that, despite starting slowly, still had chances. When the Mustangs took over, they raced 90 yards in three plays.
Zach Dodson jetted 77 yards for a touchdown with 1:02 to play in the first and Huntingdon took an 8-0 lead. It may not have seemed like it at the time, but the rout was on. Huntingdon secured a 36-0 victory over the Rebels, the second straight triumph.
Mustang coach Nathan Wallace said his team got off to a slow start, but acknowledged the opening defensive stand may have changed the dynamics of the game.
"Yeah, that stand was real big," Wallace said. "We came out flat, which is something we've done all year, but settled in and made plays. We got on offense like I wanted and I knew if we could get that stop, we'd be successful."
Ben Clifft led the Mustangs with eight carries for 144 yard and two TDs, including a 96-yard gallop late in the third. Dodson had 10 carries for 99 yards and two touchdowns. Defensively, Kade Pearson had 11 tackles including two for loss and three fumble recoveries. Dylan Johnson had an interception.
It was a tough night for the Rebels, who started out well. They moved the ball 45 yards to the 10 when the drive sputtered. Huntingdon got to the outside and Dodson was gone in the first quarter. Two Rebel fumbles resulted directly into two Huntingdon scores as the second quarter began. Clifft turned the first fumble in to six points. He scored from the 6 with 6:37 to play in the second, ending a four-play, 53-yard drive.
McKenzie fumbled on the first play of the next drive and the Mustangs needed five plays to go 47 yards for the touchdown. Keeton Bailey rambled 18 yards for the score, then added the deuce for a 22-0 lead with 4:41 to play.
That was the halftime score.
The Rebels reached into their bag of tricks and secured possession after an onside kick, which was covered by Julius Owens. Three plays later, Johnson picked off a pass that Huntingdon soon turned into a touchdown. Dodson scored from the 18 with 4:09 to play. Huntingdon held a 28-0 lead.
McKenzie finally turned some field position on Huntingdon late in the third when Thomas Stallion's punt rolled to a stop at the Mustang 4. But on the first play from scrimmage, Clifft bolted throught the middle of the line and streaked toward paydirt. Dodson added the two and Huntingdon led 36-0 after three. That was pretty much that.
McKenzie coach Paul Carroll's reaction to the setback was a mix of frustration and disappointment.
"Dresden and Huntingdon are good, but we have some talented kids on this team and I feel like I'm just not reaching them," he said. "I have to figure out a way to get this ship righted."
Sean Beck had a pretty good night for the Rebels. He had 17 carries for 52 yards and four returns for 74 yards.
Branson McCaleb had six tackles and played pretty much the whole game without coming off the field. Three of those stops were for losses.
"We drove down the field," said Carroll of the opening drive. "I don't know, but I think if we score there, this may have been a different game."
McKenzie, 0-2, visits Hollow Rock-Bruceton Central next Thursday. Huntingdon, 2-0, will venture to Camden on Sept. 6 as well.