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Second-half rally puts Georgiana over McKenzie

McKenzie running back Chris Shufford was an unstoppable force in the backfield Friday, though the Georgiana Panthers rallied in the second half to overtake the Eagles 42-32.

McKenzie running back Chris Shufford was an unstoppable force in the backfield Friday, though the Georgiana Panthers rallied in the second half to overtake the Eagles 42-32.

The McKenzie Tigers stunned a silent Georgiana crowd with an exceptional first half of play, but a Georgiana rally erased a 12-point halftime deficit and claimed a 42-32 win in the Battle of Eight Mile.

But it was all Tigers in the first half, thanks to an impressive performance from McKenzie running back Chris Shufford, who set up his teammates William Brown and Quindario Lee for the Tigers’ first and second touchdowns, respectively.

But the Georgiana offense moved just as easily in its first two drives, with quarterback Jamichael Stallworth finding Christian Williams on a 32-yard strike to even the odds at 6-6, and again as running back Derrick Johnson followed his left tackle for a touchdown run that tied the game again at 12-12.

And in a flash, the Georgiana momentum halted after a turnover gave the Tigers the ball on the Georgiana 30 yard line, leaving Shufford with a short field and an easy touchdown run.

Pressure would continue to mount for the Panthers, with a pair of crucial dropped passes on fourth down as well as a bobbled punt that was recovered by the Tigers.

A tricky dump pass from Shufford to tight end Jacquez Smith secured a 26-12 halftime and all of the momentum.

For Georgiana head football coach Ezell Powell, his halftime locker room speech was a relatively reserved one.

“The only thing I told them was as bad as we played in the first half, we’re still in the ball game,” Powell said. “If we play well on defense, we’re right back in the thick of things.  But it wasn’t just going to happen.  You were going to have to up your game and play with a tremendous effort.”

And effort was the name of the game for the Panthers in the second half, thanks to the return of running back Cameron Longmire.

The hard runner steamrolled through McKenzie defenders early in the third quarter, giving the flailing Panthers offense an injection of life. 

His absence in the first half was an effort to keep the potential for injury low, according to Powell, though a fourth-quarter collision renewed an old injury he suffered earlier this season.

“We were trying our best not to put him in there, because he was hobbling on it,” Powell said.

“We knew on defense he wouldn’t have to cut so much.  But Cam is competitive.  When we went in at halftime, he was looking at me like ‘what are we doing here? I’m good, so just trust me.’ So I put the football in his hands, and he did what Cam does.  And he gave us a spark; when the guys saw him doing what he does offensively, they really started to rally behind him and believe in it.”

But it was the Panthers’ defense that secured the game, including a key fumble recovery, an interception from Chris Mixon and a forced safety from an intentional grounding call that swung momentum permanently in the Panthers’ favor.

McKenzie head football coach Tony Norris said that, in addition to some injuries sustained by key players in the second half of play, it was difficult to maintain their lead.

“We had some things happen this game in the second half that hasn’t happened to us, so it’ll be interesting to see how we’ll bounce back next week,” Norris said. “We’ll start watching films, and see that we’ve still got a chance to do something great.  We’ve still got a chance to host the first round of the playoffs in McKenzie.  It’s just going to take a couple of more wins, and that’s what we’re going to get to work on.”

The Panthers face Pleasant Home Friday, while the Tigers host Red Level for senior night.