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Tigers victorious in Battle

When talking about rivalries, people tend to fall into clichés like “Throw the season record out. It doesn’t matter in a game like this.”

Thursday night in Georgiana, that cliché was the truth as Georgiana gave McKenzie all they could handle in a 49-34 win by the Tigers.

Even the opening coin toss was a sight — both teams made their way to midfield, where they stood facing each other while the team captains met with the referees.

The tension and excitement of that event set the tone for the entire game.

McKenzie came out firing, and a long pass from Calvin Henderson to Cliff Pugh on the second play of the game put the Tigers in business on the Georgiana 21-yard line.

After Henderson scored on a nine-yard run, the McKenzie Tigers did their best Georgia Bulldogs impression and the entire team ran to the endzone to celebrate.

Needless to say, there was an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the play and the Tigers missed the extra point to take a 6-0 lead.

Georgiana responded with a drive down the field, but it stalled at the 24-yard line.

Facing fourth and three, Victor Marshall slipped behind the McKenzie secondary, caught a pass from Kevin Brogden and raced 24 yards for the touchdown.

Deven Cheatham kicked the extra point and Georgiana claimed a 7-6 lead.

Brogden made the next big play of the game with an interception on his own five-yard line to stop McKenzie’s next drive.

With 8:51 in the second quarter, Georgiana’s LaJordan Crittenden scored on a two-yard run and the Panthers took a 14-6 lead.

On McKenzie’s next possession, Georgiana’s LaCory Savage picked off Henderson’s pass and took it 43 yards for a touchdown and the lead grew to 21-6.

The Tigers narrowly avoided disaster the next time they got the ball.

Henderson fumbled, but the Tigers recovered.

He redeemed himself with a one-yard sneak with 2:41 left before halftime.

Emmanuel Johnson added the two-point conversion and McKenzie only trailed by a touchdown at halftime.

“We talked about playing the best we could. We played a great, inspired first half, and we played well in the second half, but we just couldn’t stop the run,” said Georgiana head coach Shane Smothers.

“At halftime, we just went in and made some adjustments,” said McKenzie head coach Miles Brown. “We took what they gave us on defense and attacked.”

McKenzie came out in the second half with two quick scores, including a 50-yard run from Johnson down the left sideline and a 34-yard quarterback draw from Henderson to put McKenzie ahead 28-21.

However, Georgiana took the hits and came back with a solid drive capped off by a 16-yard run from Crittenden to tie it up.

From there, the teams traded touchdowns — a 26-yard run from Henderson for McKenzie and a 10-yard run by Marshall for Georgiana — but McKenzie converted the two point conversion and Georgiana didn’t and the score stood at 36-34 McKenzie with 5:34 left to play.

McKenzie added touchdowns from Freddie Banks and Armand Ball to pull away as time wound down.

“We got some awesome community support for this game,” Smothers said. “We had trouble tackling on defense, and they ran hard. Offensively, they did what I thought they might.”

The loss ends the season for Georgiana, and Smothers said there’s a bright future for the program.

“I love these seniors. We’ve had eight that stuck it out,” he said. “We played a lot of young guys this year. All of this is going to make us better for the offseason.”

McKenzie now has to prepare for McIntosh in the first round of the playoffs.

“After the loss to Brantley, we did a lot of soul searching,” Brown said. “Our goal was to go 10-0. We had a long talk as a team about going 9-1. That was the next step.”

“It’s always good to beat a county rival,” he continued. “I’m really proud of the way both teams showed good sportsmanship. I think that’s a representation of the quality of athletes we have in Butler County that they’ll play this hard against each other and then hug and shake hands after the game.”

McKenzie ended the game with 465 yards rushing.

Henderson had 129 yards, Johnson racked up 111, Ball had 122 yards and Banks finished with 103 yards.

Several Panthers also had a good night on the ground with 83 yards from Crittenden, 75 yards from Marshall and 71 yards from Cheatham.