You live by the sword, you die by the sword.
Union City defensive end Luke Sanderson puts pressure on McKenzie quarterback Derek Carr.
A week after rallying with three fourth-quarter touchdowns to stun Dresden in a stirring late-game comeback, Union City experienced life on the other end of that spectrum in a gut-wrenching 42-39 loss at McKenzie Friday night.
The ninth-ranked Rebels scored 21 points in the final nine minutes to rally from a double-digit deficit and escape the upset bid of a gritty Tornado bunch in an old-fashioned Region 7-1A shootout.
Jake Johnson scored on a one-yard dive with 51 seconds left to cap a nine-play, 69-yard march of all running plays and provide McKenzie with the ultimate winning margin in a wild fourth period that saw three lead changes over the final 6:41.
The heartbreaking loss overshadowed a gutsy overall team effort by the Twisters, who battled their more-heralded foe on near-even terms for the most part and got a pair of stellar individual performances by Pat Polk and Brett White.
Polk accounted for 286 all-purpose yards with 131 rushing, 126 on kick returns and 29 more receiving, while White shook off the effects of three tossed interceptions to run for four touchdowns and throw for a fifth score.
An out-of-gas defense, however — one that gave up a season-high 496 yards after entering the contest surrendering ground at a 400 yard-per-game clip — simply couldn’t get the Rebels stopped at the most critical of times.
“We just couldn’t stop them in the fourth quarter,” Tornado head coach Jimmy Fishel confirmed following the game and after watching the Rebels score on each of their three last period possessions. “We expended so much energy in the first half blitzing them on almost every play, and I really believe that took a lot out of us where we didn’t have a lot left there at the end.”
Union City indeed harassed Rebel all-state signal-caller Derek Carr at every opportunity with rushes from all angles for the better part of three periods.
And while Carr ended up with 204 yards through the air on 15-of-31 tosses with
one touchdown and one interception, it was McKenzie’s ground game that proved to be unstoppable by the Twister defense during crunch time.
Tyler Moore ran for 182 yards and three TDs, and Johnson, with fresh legs late in the contest, scored twice in the final 6:41 when a tiring UC unit missed a bushel of tackles and was often left reaching and grabbing at Rebel rushers.
“They took the football and put it in their big back’s (Moore) hands and ran right at us at the end,” Fishel said. “We missed a ton of tackles late and we just didn’t finish.”
The Twisters had erased a slim one-point halftime deficit with two third-quarter touchdowns to seemingly assume control with a 33-21 advantage heading into the final 12 minutes.
Julian Moss thwarted McKenzie on its first second-half possession with an endzone interception of Carr to set up the locals’ initial TD sequence, and a holding flag against the Rebels aided UC on the second.
White scored on a pair of one-yard keepers to cap a pair of impressive 80-yard Union City marches with all of that real estate gained on the ground. Polk ripped off huge chunks of turf on runs of 25 and 64 yards to key the respective marches, his second dash a thing of beauty after he zig-zagged across the field after starting off-tackle on the left side.
White had gainers of 15 and 32 yards on keepers in his team’s first scoring series, then scrambled to paydirt on the second after reaching the endzone on a sneak earlier.
Will Arnold’s point-after following the second TD made it a 12-point (33-21) game with just 19 seconds left in the third stanza.
Moore, though, broke free from a pile on 4th-and-1 and rambled for six points from 27 yards out on McKenzie’s ensuing possession, and Evan Rogers’ interception of an ill-advised White pass after UC had fielded the following kickoff set up Johnson’s 48-yard scoring sprint that put the Rebels up 34-33 with 6:41 left.
Undaunted, the Twisters answered when Polk tight-roped the McKenzie sideline and danced 71 yards with the kickoff return to the Rebel 18 before White skirted trouble and made it to the endzone four plays later to put Union City back ahead 39-34 after a failed two-point conversion at the 4:28 mark.
That was plenty of time for the host club, however, to mount the game-deciding march.
The Tornadoes’ first-half scores came on a 25-yard pitch, catch and run from White to Jacob Worley in the right flat, a series that was set up by Darrin Dickerson’s fumble recovery. Polk motored 29 yards to paydirt early in the second to give UC a 14-7 lead, and White’s 35-yard TD scramble made it 20-14 until McKenzie tallied just before halftime.
Fishel did have high words of praise for the fact that his troops gave it their all against a quality opponent.
“We left everything we had out there on the field, and I’m so proud of the kids for that,” the coach claimed. “We really challenged the kids before the game, and it was one of our better efforts of the last couple of years.”
Union City will celebrate homecoming and try to break a five-game losing streak vs. county-rival Obion Central this week.
Game notes: Worley broke his thumb in the first half and sat out the final two quarters, forcing UC to play without its No. 2 rusher and second-leading tackler the rest of the way. He is to be re-evaluated early this week with his playing status undetermined as of now. … Three McKenzie starters didn’t dress for the contest after skipping practice earlier in the week. … The Tornadoes were charged with 28 missed tackles, many of those in the final frame. Dickerson had eight stops and both Luke Sanderson and Taylor Bruff seven to top the Union City hit chart.
Sports editor Mike Hutchens can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.