McKenzie, Brantley to face off for regional championship
Two 1A teams—the Brantley Bulldogs and the McKenzie Tigers—will enter the fray Friday night as undefeated teams, but only one of them will walk away as the regional champions.
For the McKenzie Tigers, an opportunity to knock off one of the permanent fixtures in the 1A postseason is a reward in and of itself.
But for McKenzie head coach Josh McLendon, the true victory is in getting a taste of high-level playoff competition a few weeks before the real thing.
And unsurprisingly, the key to preparing for such a big game lies in removing the spectacle around it.
“It’s important—it’s a big game—but we’re going to treat this game just like we’ve treated every other game,” McLendon said.
“It’s as big as the six games before this one. They put their pads on just like we do. We’re just going to go out and try to play really hard and have a good result.”
With that said, it’s still impossible to ignore Brantley’s accomplishments in the past several years, and McLendon is keenly aware of them.
After all, the Bulldogs have been regional champs for 12 of the past 14 years, with only 2001 and 2010 serving as exceptions.
But McLendon said that their tradition of excellence isn’t something to be feared, but admired.
“We understand that they’re a good team and a good program, and we’re looking to get where they are,” McLendon added.
“We want to be a program that’s known like they’re known.”
The key to victory for the Tigers will lie in slowing down the scoring engine that is the Bulldogs offense, who tally an astounding average of 43 points per game across the first seven games of the season.
Leading the charge is the impossible-to-tackle senior Brandon Walker, who’s 5’10’’, 175-pound frame belies his toughness.
For McLendon, it’s not individual playmakers that will sway victory, but fundamentals—especially tackling, in Walker’s case.
“It’s the same each week; I think it’s going to come down to how we play up front on both sides of the ball, tackling well, catching, throwing and just the basic fundamentals,” McLendon said.
“It’s going to be who does the little things better than the opponent. It’s going to be by far the biggest challenge of the season, so we’ll see what we’ve got.”
The McKenzie Tigers face off with the Brantley Bulldogs for the regional championship at home in McKenzie Friday beginning at 7 p.m.