Warriors push McKenzie in finale

A spirited effort by host McEwen fell short as the No. 1-ranked McKenzie Rebels claimed a tough 21-6 Region 6A victory Friday.

McKenzie already had secured the Region 6A championship after defeating Hollow Rock-Bruceton 49-6 last week. Irrespective of what happened Friday at McEwen, McKenzie was the region champ. McEwen likely faced a fourth-place finish in the league.

A funny thing happened on the way to the playoffs. South Fulton capsized Gleason’s shot at third place.  The Red Devils earned an 18-6 victory over Gleason,  which catapulted McEwen into third place and a bit better footing in the playoffs. Gleason, meanwhile,  is on the outside looking in.

The Warriors controlled the tempo and time of possession, but had a hard time coming up with points against the Rebels. McKenzie snapped the ball 24 times to McEwen’s 69. As has been the case all year, the Rebels utilized the big play to establish their cushion.

McEwen senior running back Thomas Wills had a gritty game, carrying 39 times for 131 yards and a touchdown.  He scored from the 1 with 4:41 to play in the game, capping a 15-play, 65-yard drive. That drive ate up 8:51. McKenzie did not snap the ball a single time in the fourth quarter. McEwen out-gained the Rebels 237-224 and held a statistical edge just about everywhere except the scoreboard.

McEwen forced a three-and-out on the Rebels’ first drive, but couldn’t move the ball after receiving the punt. McKenzie swamped the McEwen punt at the Warrior 21, where Rebel quarterback Jackson Cassidy located receiver Drew Chappell for 20 yards. McKenzie fumbled at the goal line and gave the ball back to McEwen. The first quarter ended in a scoreless draw.

McEwen’s next drive sputtered at the Rebel 42. McKenzie’s big-play penchant manifested itself on the next play when Rebel senior running back Marquez Taylor pin-balled his way 58 yards to pay-dirt. Zach Aird kicked his first of three PATs and the Rebels led 7-0 with 9:29 to play in the half.

With 5:19 to play in the half, the Rebels took over again and seven plays later, Cassidy looked up junior receiver Stafford Roditis for a 55-yard TD aerial with 2:42 to play in the half. The Rebels took a 14-0 lead into the break.

With 9:20 remaining in the third,  Taylor rambled 16 yards for the score and a 21-0 advantage.

Taylor had seven carries for 104 yards and two touchdowns. Cassidy was 4-13 passing for 143 yards. Aird had two catches for 68 yards. Rashad McCreary was the Rebel vacuum cleaner with 17 total tackles, 10 solo.

McKenzie, 10-0, will host 6-4 Wayne County in the first round of the playoffs. McEwen,  6-4, heads to Moore County, 9-1, for its first-round game. Kickoff for playoff games is 7 p.m.

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