By: Jim Steele
Trailing 20-16 after surrendering yet another big play, this time to Trenton-Peabody with 3:51 to play in the fourth, it looked like McKenzie's stellar effort may end in disappointment.
After all, who could blame the Rebels. They'd suffered a series of disappointing losses after giving up big plays. They could have easily folded the tents. But this team had something to prove...and on senior night.
The host Rebels had one last shot. They moved the ball 67 yards in eight plays, ending with Joseph Miller's 4-yard scoring plunge with :34 to play. McKenzie shocked the Golden Tide 22-20. McKenzie coach Wade Comer celebrated his 150th victory as a result.
McKenzie essentially controlled the tempo of the game from the outset and showed a lot of resiliency. The Rebels led for most of the night, but relinquished the lead not once, but twice in the final 4:55. They responded with a much-needed Region 7AA triumph. This team matured at the expense of the Tide.
"They showed a lot heart and courage and grew up a lot tonight," Comer said. "We always tell the kids that they have to find ways to win and tonight, they did that."
Leading 8-7 going into the final frame, McKenzie's offense controlled the tempo and its defense consistently made plays to get off the field. But in the final 4:55, this defensive tussle turned into a scoring fest. Trenton-Peabody found a spark and sustained a 10-play, 75-yard drive, ending in a 19-yard romp by Tide quarterback Cooper Baugus. The conversion kick lifted Peabody to a 14-8 lead with 4:55 left in regulation, its first lead of the night.
The disappointment was short lived as McKenzie's Tyler Spivey took the ensuing kickoff 90 yards the other way for the score. The try for two pushed the Rebels back in front, 16-14, 14 seconds later. The Tide wasn't done.
Neither were the Rebels.
Peabody's Jarel Dickson was the latest opponent to burn McKenzie with a big run. He burst 63 yards to the 2 and scored from the 1 two plays later. The try for two failed, but the Tide held a 20-16 advantage with 3:51 to play.
That's when the Rebels put together a memorable drive that may have rivaled the final drives vs. Lewis County in 2002 or the one that secured the semifinal victory against Mt. Pleasant in 2007. McKenzie marched 67 yards in eight plays, with Miller carrying the load. He carried seven times for 64 of those yards, ending with his grinding surge from the 4 to give McKenzie the 22-20 advantage with :34 left.
Miller finished with 36 carries for 165 yards.
The Tide had one last chance to steal the victory, but Cameron Rawls' interception at the horn preserved the much-needed regional victory.
The Rebels were able to set the tenor with a fairly simple ball-control offense, which kept Peabody's defense on the field for 27 of the alotted 48 minutes in the game. A lot of that can be attributed to the play of the line, who had every one back for the first time this season.
"We've had to deal with injury and a lot of other things and this is the first time we've had all our starting five offensive linemen on the field," Comer said. "It paid off for us and we were able to sustain some drives."
The Rebels showed that early as they moved the ball 75 yards in 13 plays between the first and second quarters. McKenzie senior quarterback Zach Jarrett found Rawls in the end zone for a 9-yard scoring strike with 7:57 to play in the second. The conversion pass from Jarrett to Josh Cannon gave the Rebels an 8-0 lead. Trenton responded wth 5:14 to play when Baugus scored from the 24 to cut the advantage to one, 8-7, but the Rebels had served notice.
When the Rebel offense did give it back to the Tide, the MHS defense wasn't left in a bad spot.
"We wanted to keep our defense off the field and stay fresh and it paid off for us," Comer said. "Our defense played lights out. Trenton has a lot of speed and explosiveness and we kept them corralled up."
Comer also praised the rejuvenated offensive line and Jarrett's checks into proper plays, given how Trenton's defense was aligned.
The Rebels see their playoff chances revitalized after this victory. They also had some help tonight as well. Adamsville defeated Union City 42-20. The Tornadoes will host the Rebels next Friday at Jim Cawley Field.
"We have to win out. We knew that when we left Adamsville last week," said Comer. "We have Union City next and we have to be ready to play."
Trenton-Peabody, 6-2, 2-2, hosts Trinity Christian next Friday. McKenzie improves to 4-4 and 2-2 in the region.