Union City earned the inside track to the second seed of District 7-2A after toppling host McKenzie 36-26 Friday night.
Union City utilized a ball-control offense that occupied possession for 29:29. Meanwhile, McKenzie made a game of it by resorting to a deliberate pass attack. But a few mistakes here and there proved costly.
Union City had nine possessions in the game and McKenzie really only stopped the Tornadoes twice. UC scored on five drives and had two drives end because of halftime and the end of the game. The Rebels did stop UC twice.
The Tornadoes had drives of 7:13, 5:56, 6:16 and 4:06. UC didn’t throw the ball a single time and churned up 329 total yards. Running back Justin Wiggins had 31 carries for 200 yards. Quarterback Sam Theobald carried 16 times for 107 yards.
Yet, McKenzie stayed in the game and actually outgained Union City. The Rebels stacked up 356 total yards, 253 of it coming off the arm of quarterback Evan Jarrett. Jarrett was 23-31 with a pair of TDs and an interception.
McKenzie coach Wade Comer said he was disappointed in the loss, but was pleased with the effort his team gave.
“It took us a little while to get used to the way they execute their offense, and we dug ourselves a hole there. We could have easily hung our hats up, but we gave ourselves a chance,” the coach said. “We just couldn’t make the play to get back in it, but overall, the kids played the full 48 minutes and gave a good effort.”
There were three big turning points in the game. The first came early in the second quarter after the Rebels got a big stop on Theobald for a 4-yard loss. The post-tackle demonstration drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty. Then the Rebels incurred another unsportsmanlike penalty that resulted in the ejection of senior running back/defensive back Micah Austin.
Early in the fourth quarter, trailing 28-20, the Rebels stopped Union City on its own 37. The ensuing punt was shanked and rolled dead near midfield. But the Rebels were called for roughing. Instead of good field position and a chance to draw closer, McKenzie watched Union City score two plays later for a 36-20 lead.
McKenzie drove to the UC 6 on the next possession and was poised for a score, but a fumble ended that drive and McKenzie’s shot at winning with 6:59 to play in the game. Comer wasn’t pleased with some of the calls, especially the unsportsmanlike call after the big tackle that resulted in Austin’s departure.
“That’s what football is, it’s getting excited. It is what it is and I didn’t agree with it (the call). We have to play smarter, too, but that was a big turning point in the game for more than one thing,” said the coach. “We had a lot of momentum defensively and that hurt us and then we lose a kid.”
McKenzie had to retool its entire game plan when Austin left.
“You have to move kids around to get us up to speed and it took us a while to do that, but when that happens, you have to be able to respond.” Comer said.
The Rebels found themselves in a 21-0 hole in the first half. Wiggins broke the ice from the 16 for UC with 4:43 to play in the first for a 7-0 lead on a drive that took 7:13. With 6:44 to play in the second, Theboald scampered 11 yards to give Union City a 14-0 lead., then he rang the bell again with 4:21 to play, this time from 30 yards.
McKenzie responded with a score of its own at the 1:16 mark. Kaden Allen hauled in an 8-yard TD pass from Jarrett. Zach Aird’s kick gave the Rebs life going into the second half.
The Rebels didn’t take long as the third frame unfolded. McKenzie freshman Marquez Taylor bolted in from the 6 with 10:49 to play. The PAT missed, but the Rebels were down 21-13. After Wiggins’ 7-yard run with 4:24 to play lifted the Tornadoes to a 28-13 advantage, McKenzie scored again.
With 1:07 to play in the third, Jarrett located Logan Lyles on a 2-yard pass, and McKenzie was down by eight again, 28-20.
With 9:04 to play in the fourth, Wes Tilghman broke free for a 25-yard jaunt and a 36-20 cushion, but McKenzie would not go quietly into the night. With 1:10 to play, Taylor scored from the three, narrowing the gap to 10. The two-point conversion failed and Union City escaped with a pivotal regional victory.
“It was a disappointing loss, but we have to pick up our boot straps and go on. We have a lot to play for,” Comer said. “We’re in the playoffs and we have to take care of business these next two ballgames and get the highest seed that we can get.”
Comer praised the effort of his quarterback, his team’s response to adversity, and the receivers.
“Evan has gotten better the last couple of weeks. We should have been able to run the ball better than what we did. We should have been able to punch it in a couple of times down there. If you get one of those in, you get momentum going,” Comer said. “Taylor is doing outstanding, especially for his age. His biggest problem is that he wants every play to be a touchdown, but that’s a process he’s got to go through and he’ll get better at that.”
Taylor carried 15 times for 103 yards and two touchdowns.
“We spread the ball around last night. Kaden Allen did a good job catching the ball and I thought our protection was good,” said Comer.
Allen had six catches for 73 yards. Lyles had six for 63. Latimer had five for 64. Taylor had four for 34, and West Cook had two fo 25.
McKenzie, 4-4 overall and 2-2 in the region, steps outside of the league to host Obion Central this Friday night. Central is 1-7 and had a bye week last Friday. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. this Friday at Randy Thomas Field.
“We have a lot to play for and the kids can do a tremendous job,” the caoch said. “That hurt them last night and it should have meant something and it did. But they are ready to bounce back.”