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Tigers take down Panthers in rivalry game

Thursday’s battle between the McKenzie Tigers and the Butler County Magnet School Panthers lived up to the hype, but the Tigers used a strong second half to pull out a 50-26 win.

“The first half was really a slugfest,” said McKenzie head coach Miles Brown. “If you’re a fan of high school football and you weren’t here, you really missed something. The atmosphere was electric.”

One of the Panthers’ plans coming into the game was to try to limit the McKenzie offense’s time on the field.

BCMS converted a fourth-and-one at McKenzie’s 15-yard line on the opening drive, which helped set up a six-yard touchdown run by Victor Marshall, and that drive ate up six and a half minutes of clock.

“We showed up and played hard,” said BCMS head coach Shane Smothers.

The Tigers only needed two minutes and 18 seconds before Calvin Henderson hit Freddie Banks for a 24-yard screen pass to the endzone.

One of the crucial moments of the first half came with just over a minute left in the first period.

The Panthers faced fourth down deep in their own territory, but a high snap on the punt caused LaCory Savage to miss the ball, and McKenzie recovered on BCMS’s five-yard line.

“Not converting on that third down, and then having the snap over his head – that was really a turning point,” Smothers said. “We didn’t convert on their miscues, and that’ll break you. They capitalized on all of ours.”

On the first play after the fumble, Emmanuel Johnson made the Panthers pay with a touchdown run to make the score 16-6.

However, Marshall made sure the Panthers were far from out of the game.

On the ensuing kick, Marshall bobbled the catch, picked it up, broke several tackles near the 40-yard line, and emerged from a pile of Tigers on his way to a 96-yard kickoff return that cut the lead to 16-14.

The two teams then traded touchdowns with Ball adding another for the Tigers and LaJordan Crittenden finding the endzone for BCMS.

Ball had another big run to set up a run by Johnson with 2:22 left in the half to give McKenzie a 28-20 lead.

The Panthers caught a break with a little over 30 seconds to go in the half when Ball broke a 45-yard screen pass for a touchdown, but it was called back for holding.

In the second half, both defenses stepped up to the plate.

“Coach [Ezell] Powell and Coach [Tony] Norris did a good job of making some defensive adjustments that we had to make to stop them,” Brown said.

After Banks took another screen pass 20 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter, the McKenzie defense used some of those adjustments to stop the Panther offense inside the Tigers’ 10-yard line.

However, the Tiger D couldn’t keep Marshall off the board as he scored with 1:59 left in the third quarter to cut the lead to 36-26.

Unfortunately for the Panthers, they just ran out of gas in the second half, and McKenzie extended the lead to 42-26 on a two-yard run by Ball.

A two-yard touchdown catch by Sir Wallace Presley in the final minute put the game on ice for the Tigers.

“The Butler County coaches did a great job of coaching, and the players did a good job of executing their game plan,” Brown said. “Our kids also did a good job of executing, and I’m proud of how we played. We were unselfish, and we did a good job of spreading it around and mixing it up.”

“The scoreboard doesn’t show the effort of both teams,” Smothers said. “We played our rear ends off. Every time we made a big play, they would just make a bigger play.”

“We thought we’d move the ball like we did last year, but the question was if we could stop them on defense,” he added. “The answer was no.”

Next week the Tigers will play host to Fruitdale, while the Panthers will travel to Brantley in the first round of the playoffs.