By: Jim Steele
McKENZIE, Tenn. - Milan started with a big play, ended with a big play and ruined what had been a pretty good effort by McKenzie in the middle.
Milan secured a 36-20 victory in middle school football action Thursday night at Rebel Field with a result that was closer than the score.
It was a disappointing setback for the Rebels, who, for the first time since 2004, won't finish with a winning record.
Milan led 14-6 at the half, but the Rebels clawed back to tie the game twice, the last time with 4:26 to play in the game. But a big burst 13 seconds later, then another long run just over a minute later after an unintended onside kick for insurance sealed the deal.
"I told the kids that if you want to beat Milan, you have to hit them in the mouth early and go until the whistle blows; you can't let up," said MHS coach Paul Carroll. "I was really pleased with the effort and the way the kids kept coming back."
Milan rocked the Rebels on their heels right off the bat. Bulldog returner Jordan Shepard took the opening kickoff 61 yards for the score and the Rebels trailed 6-0. Shepard appeared to be hemmed up when he bolted through the pack and zipped the rest of the way.
The Bulldogs scored again with 1:55 to play in the half. Shepard broke free for a 79-yard TD run. The two-pointer lifted Milan to a 14-0 lead. McKenzie answered. Quarterback Zach Jarrett found Brandon Baucom on a 42-yard hook-up, then Jarrett hit Eric Robinson, who was tackled at the 2. With :45 to play in the half, Branson McCaleb bullied his way into the end zone from the 2 and the Rebels cut the lead to 8, 14-6.
McKenzie tied the game mid way in the third when Robinson scored on a 9-yard run. Michael Floyd sprinted in for the deuce and McKenzie had deadlocked the game at 14.
Just when the Rebels had gained some momentum, Milan stole it right back. Milan quarterback Blake Miller rambled 53 yards for the score two minutes later for a 20-14 lead. Early in the fourth, McKenzie covered a loose ball, which led directly to a Mckenzie score.
Jarrett located Robinson for a 9-yard TD pass with 4:26. The PAT failed, but the Rebels had tied the game again, this time at 20.
Once again, just as sure as McKenzie had regained the momentum, Milan dashed it. Miller took the ensuing kickoff 75 yards for the score and a 28-20 lead. Then, Milan's kicker squibbed a kick off his toe and the Bulldogs covered the ball. With 3:07 to play, Shepard galloped 50 yards for a score. Miller added the PAT and Milan had salted away a 36-20 victory.
"They big played us," said Carroll. "All their scoring came from big runs, but they didn't drive it on us."
The Rebels will finish up the season Tuesday at Camden.