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McKenzie fends off scrappy Red Level team

McKenzie defender Chris Shufford met Red Level running back John Lee in the air at the line of scrimmage during McKenzie’s 27-12 win over Red Level.

McKenzie defender Chris Shufford met Red Level running back John Lee in the air at the line of scrimmage during McKenzie’s 27-12 win over Red Level.

The McKenzie Tigers are one step closer to hosting their first playoff game with a 27-12 win over the Red Level Tigers.

(McKenzie remained in control of the football game for much of the night, though it never felt that way thanks to a scrappy Red Level offense that found itself in the end zone several times—though thanks to a solid defensive McKenzie effort, Red Level walked away with little to show for it more often than not.)

It was McKenzie who struck first thanks to a spree of spirited runs from running back Chris Shufford, who set up full back William Brown for a 2-yard surge up the middle for a touchdown.

Shufford would play less of a role on the offensive side of the ball in the drives to come, and McKenzie head football coach Tony Norris said that it was a purposeful decision.

“We’re taking it day by day with him, but saving him and resting him a bit was was our game plan going in,” Norris said.

“We’ll evaluate and see where we go from there.”

Shufford remained a large factor on the defensive end, where his presence was much needed thanks to the incredibly physical Red Level backfield duo of running back John Lee and split back Joe Arnold.

The Red Level offense matched McKenzie’s opening score in just five plays, all on the ground.

A first-down sack dug a hole for the McKenzie offense on their ensuing drive, but Shufford found a shovel and a first down on a speed sweep, and a touchdown on the very next play with a burst through the middle to make it 13-6.

McKenzie got it done through the air on its next two scores courtesy of a 38-yard bomb to Quindario Lee and a 22-yard laser-accurate touchdown strike to Seth Keeney.

And despite a few second-half mishaps that allowed Red Level to creep back into the game late in the fourth, he remains confident that his Tigers’ solid defensive play will continue to make a difference down the road.  And next week’s game against Brantley will prove especially important—the game will determine the No. 2 seed as well as which team will host its first playoff game.

“It’s going to take some outstanding effort by a few guys,” Norris said. “And honestly, tonight we had a few guys who gave an outstanding effort.  I thought Jacquez Smith played a heck of a game on defense coming down the stretch. 

“It’s going to take guys stepping up to the plate, and being willing to fight for a No. 2 spot on the line.  It ain’t for the faint-hearted, I can tell you that.”

The Tigers and the Bulldogs will square off in Brantley Friday night at 7 p.m.