McKenzie is a team that averaged nearly 48 points per game this year. What a lot of people have overlooked is how stingy its defense has been.
Friday night in the Class A quarterfinals at Fayetteville, McKenzie needs to squeeze out every ounce of its defense. Mission accomplished.
The No. 1-ranked Rebels defeated No. 4 Fayetteville, the defending Class A champions, 14-8 in a game where points came at a premium.
McKenzie, 13-0, will return home to play another defending state champion next Friday in Trenton-Peabody, 12-1, the three-time defending 2A champions. The Rebels lost to the Tide in double overtime during last year’s 2A quarterfinals. This marks the first time since 2010 that McKenzie has ventured to the semifinals. That year, the Rebels suffered a 27-26 overtime loss to Trinity Christian. This will be McKenzie’s sixth trip to the state semifinals.
McKenzie limited the host Tigers to just 166 yards, the bulk of which came on a 45-yard TD pass from junior quarterback Sam Holdmeyer to Isaiah Thomison. The Rebel defense stiffened when it had to.
The two teams had chances in the first half, swapping punts and turnovers, but the two teams remained scoreless going into the halftime dressing rooms.
On the third play of the third quarter, McKenzie’s Zach Aird picked off a pass and returned it 29 yards to the Fayetteville 31. The Tiger defense was almost as stingy, forcing McKenzie to run 11 plays before Rebel quarterback Jackson Cassidy bolted into the end zone from 5 yards out with 5:59 to play in the third. Aird’s kick lifted the Rebels to a 7-0 lead, which almost seemed insurmountable at the time.
The next McKenzie scoring drive straddled the third and fourth quarters. McKenzie got the ball back after stopping the Tigers on their next possession with 1:19 to play in the third. A 36-yard burst from Marquez Taylor landed the Rebels on the Tiger 22. Cassidy’s 15-yard jaunt to the 6, set up Taylor’s TD run on the next play. Aird’s kick gave the Rebels a seemingly safe lead with 11:54 to play.
Six plays into Fayetteville’s next drive, Holdmeyer hooked up with Thomison for a 45-yard score. Holdmeyer completed the conversion pass to Jackson and the Tigers seemingly had life and momentum.
The Rebels punted back to the Tigers with 6:04 to play and let their defense do the job. On a big fourth-and-inches play with 2:14 remaining, McKenzie stopped the run and regained possession. From there, it just ran out the clock.
The Rebels mounted 246 yards of offense, 137 coming on the ground. Taylor led the rebels with 55 yards rushing, Rashad McCreary had 49 and Cassidy had 43. Cassidy also completed 12-17 passes for 109 yards. the rebels were penalized 13 times for 146 yards, but won in spite of those numbers.
Fayetteville ends its season with an 11-2 mark.