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McKenzie rallies to topple Houston County

McKenzie running back Chris Shufford proved a thorn in the Houston County Lions’ side Friday night with four touchdown runs.

McKenzie running back Chris Shufford proved a thorn in the Houston County Lions’ side Friday night with four touchdown runs.

Five turnovers weren’t quite enough to sink McKenzie at home Friday as the Tigers held off the visiting Houston County Lions 42-39 for their second consecutive region win.

But a great McKenzie start quickly turned into a disastrous one as a kickoff return for a touchdown from Chris Shufford 16 seconds into the game was quickly erased by two unanswered Houston County touchdown drives, including one courtesy of a McKenzie fumble at their own 6-yard line.

Two more fumbles set up the Lions with comparatively short fields, though the Tigers’ defense held long enough for Shufford to answer with a huge 87-yard touchdown run with 7:35 remaining in the half.

But the Lions responded in kind once again as running back Trevell Smith flattened a McKenzie defender on his way to the end zone to extend Houston County’s lead to 20-13.

A fourth McKenzie fumble was recovered and taken the length of the field to the McKenzie 1-yard line with just 34.2 seconds remaining in the half, which set up an easy score and a 13-point Houston County lead at the half.

But the second half was an entirely different story, as both the Tigers’ offense and defense exited the locker room looking very much like a different team.

McKenzie quarterback William Brown stood in for quarterback Daniel Gaston, who took a nasty hit near the Houston County sideline minutes before the conclusion of the first half.  Brown quickly found a rhythm as he connected with wide receiver Quindario Lee for a momentum-changing touchdown that cut the Lions’ lead to just 5.

Two drives later, fueled by pure effort, Shufford spun and dived  for the end zone on an 11-yard touchdown run that gave McKenzie its first lead since Shufford’s opening kickoff return for a touchdown.

Though Houston County came within spitting distance of evening the odds on two occasions, including an impressive zigzag run from returner Immanual Dawsey through a sea of McKenzie defenders on the Lions’ final kickoff return for a touchdown, the Tigers held firm to its second-half lead.

McKenzie head football coach Tony Norris said that, despite the tension shaving a few years from his lifespan permanently, he was thoroughly impressed with his players’ mental fortitude.

“We just stayed the course and stayed together,” Norris said. “I told them that’s adversity.  We’ve got two choices.  Either we can tear apart our team or come together as a team, and overcome and move on.  And they just stayed the course and moved on, and I couldn’t be more proud of them.

“Offensively and defensively, we made some adjustments.  The coaching staff did a great job of making the adjustments, and the kids did a great job of applying those things.”

The Tigers will face the Wildcats of Florala Friday for its third consecutive region opponent, though a string of home games have given McKenzie a leg-up on their area competition.

Despite Florala’s middling 2016 season thus far, Norris is expecting a fight.

“Every game’s a challenge,” Norris said.

“Anything can happen on a Friday night—you can turn the ball over, you can have some injuries… you never know.  So it’s going to be a tough game next week, and we’re going to have to just come out and play hard again.  The lucky thing is that we’ve got home field for a while, so we’ve got to take advantage of it.”

The Tigers will host the Wildcats Friday night, with kickoff slated for 7 p.m.