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McKenzie falls in close battle with Ariton

A single yard proved the difference between potential victory and certain defeat Friday night as an onside kick rolled out of bounds just shy of the 10-yard mark for the McKenzie Tigers.

With the team trailing the Ariton Purple Cats 33-26, the failed onside kick sealed the deal for a Week-1 loss.

The Tigers roared out of the gates with a powerful run game fueled by Chris Shufford and William Brown in the backfield, but the tandem stalled in the third quarter as the Tigers’ 19-13 lead evaporated and the Purple Cats mounted 20 unanswered points.

Norris said that he knew the season opener would prove an early test for the Tigers that could dictate the pace of the season.

“I told them going into this season that I was going to test them early.  We got Ariton, which was a Class 2A playoff team last year, so we came out of the gate testing them with the first game of the season.

“We had some cramping issues and things like that, but when you’ve got 24 players, it hurts a little bit.  But the kids played hard, kept fighting and we had a chance to score with two minutes left with an onside kick.  I can’t say enough about our kids’ effort and will at the end.  It looked like we were both heavyweights coming down to the final round.

Norris added that he was reassured by the effort of his players in the face of a tough opponent, though things won’t get any easier from Week 1 to Week 2 for the Tigers.

Friday will see McKenzie hosting the Class 3A Geneva  Panthers.

“The biggest thing is we get a chance to get film on ourselves and try to work on us early in the year,” Norris said.

“We ran the ball decently in the first half, and then in the third quarter we just gave out.  Then we came back and ran the ball a little better in the fourth quarter.

“It’s going to be another big test, and I’m interested to see how the kids handle it coming off this week.”

The visiting Geneva Panthers will square off with the McKenzie Tigers Friday beginning at 7 p.m.