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McKenzie blueprint uses heavy hammer

McKenzie blueprint uses heavy hammer
McKenzie blueprint uses heavy hammer

Union City’s Josh Nicks watches as McKenzie’s Max Arnold can’t pull down a pass during the Tornadoes’ loss Friday at War Memorial Stadium.
McKenzie gave Union City a dose of its own medicine.
And the bitter after-taste is sure to make the Tornadoes sick for a while.
Jake Johnson’s three-yard touchdown run with 38 seconds left helped the Rebels not only exact revenge from an earlier loss, but end UC’s season with a gut-wrenching 17-14 second round Class 1A playoff defeat Friday night at a rain-soaked War Memorial Stadium.
McKenzie’s payback for a 21-16 regular season loss ended the Twisters’ otherwise stellar season and 10-game winning streak.
The Rebels — 10-2 like Union City and ranked one spot behind the No. 8 Twisters in the final Associated Press poll — earned a spot in the quarterfinals with the victory where they’ll look for a second helping of revenge against Lake County.
The Falcons (8-4), who edged Gleason 42-40 in overtime Friday to punch their Round 3 ticket, beat McKenzie 38-35 in Week 9 as part of their current seven-game winning streak.
McKenzie and Union City slugged it out like a pair of heavyweights as most had predicted in their second meeting of the season Friday night.
Physical and hard-hitting on both sides from start to finish, the Rebels ended up doing to UC what the Tornadoes had been doing to their opponents during an impressive four-game stretch entering the showdown.
With Johnson — who missed the first meeting due to injury — providing a bruising downhill running presence, McKenzie employed a smash-mouth style that was more than the Purple and Gold could handle.
Johnson was at the back of the Rebel I-formation attack and mostly followed fullback Jacob Fussell off tackle while finishing with 172 yards on 24 carries and both McKenzie touchdowns.
“It was exactly the type of game I thought it would be,” Union City head coach Darren Bowling said afterward. “Both teams pounded the football and were very physical. They were a little bigger than we were up front, and No. 27 (Johnson) got in behind No. 40 (Fussell), and he really made a difference with his style in the kind of game that it was because of the weather.
“We don’t make any excuses, though. It was two good football teams going at it. Both of us handled the elements well, I thought. They made a couple of more plays than we did and, as usual, a couple of plays are the difference when two teams are so evenly matched.”
Easily McKenzie’s biggest made-play came when the visitors converted a 4th-and-12 at the UC 32 with less than three minutes to play that kept their game-winning drive alive.
Needing just one more stop after getting big hits by Ronnie Fair, who blasted Johnson, and a couple of good plays by Julian Moss, the Twisters instead gave up a 16-yard pass completion from Austin McKinney to a sliding Max Arnold that gave the Rebels new life.
Five plays later, Johnson bulled his way over right tackle and two defenders for the deciding points.
“It was similar to the same play they’d run earlier on a 3rd-and-long and their kid made a good sliding catch on that one, too,” Bowling claimed. “Give them credit for making the play when they had to.”
Union City, which had done little offensively since a game-opening TD drive, seemingly was on its way to a dramatic comeback victory of its own midway through the fourth quarter after Colton Speed broke outside and loose on a 45-yard touchdown run with 5:04 to play.
The Tornadoes had started their go-ahead drive on their own 23 with 9:21 to go and had ground out three first downs, largely on the strength of fullback Josh Nicks ramming the ball between the tackles as the first option in UC’s midline attack.
A play after the Rebels had jumped offside to give the Twisters a first down on the Rebel side of midfield, Union City’s Mr. Football finalist stepped out of a would-be tackle after breaking outside and scooted 45 yards to paydirt. Jacob Worley tacked on the ensuing two-point conversion to double the locals’ lead to 14-10.
Too much time left and too much Johnson ultimately doomed UC though. The Rebels’ junior tailback had runs of 19 and 16 yards after his team took over at the 35 to reach the Tornado 30 before the aforementioned critical pitch-and-catch from McKinney to Arnold positioned McKenzie for the winning score.
Union City had taken the opening kickoff and driven impressively for a touchdown to seize early momentum and control.
Nicks’ bolted over left guard and into the clear on his way to a 34-yard score before the game was three minutes old to cap a six-play, 65-yard sequence that was aided by a key offside penalty against the Rebels on a 4th-and-1 play at the McKenzie 47. Peter Wilkes’ PAT hit the right upright to keep the score at 6-0.
The Twisters then failed to capitalize on a golden scoring opportunity after Johnson fumbled on the Rebels’ first possession with Zack Cavness recovering at the McKenzie 38.
After the Laughery missed a 36-yard field goal on the Rebels’ second offensive series, the visitors then dominated both sides of the line of scrimmage for the rest of the first half and put up 10 points to a take a 10-6 lead at the intermission.
A 41-yard Johnson scamper set up his six-yard TD run at 7:45 of the second period, and with Union City’s offense netting just 19 total yards and one first down on its next three possessions, McKenzie added to that lead when Laughery booted a 27-yard field goal to cap a 10-play, 54-yard drive.
“They really didn’t anything that we hadn’t seen and hadn’t prepared for,” Bowling said while explaining his team’s offensive struggles moving the ball. “We’re physical, but also so much of our offense is based on quickness and the weather conditions made us a step or two slower to get to the spots where we usually are.
“We did a little bit better in the second half with that.”
Worley recorded a team-high 10 tackles to pace the Tornadoes defensively, while Fair was credited with eight. Stevie Gossett had six stops — including three for lost yardage before leaving the game with a shoulder injury — with both Moss and Brandon Easley netting a half-dozen hits apiece too.
Sports editor Mike Hutchens can be contacted by e-mail at mhutch@ucmessenger.com.

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