McKenzie back in 1A championship; Riverside finally makes it to 2A title game

McKenzie returns to the Class 1A state football title game after a dominating defensive performance and a solid ground game led to a 34-0 semifinal victory over MASE on Friday.

Jackson Cassidy and Marquez Taylor combined to rush for 139 yards and four touchdowns as McKenzie built a 20-0 lead in the first quarter. Cassidy ran for 80 yards and a pair of TDs and threw for 51 yards and a touchdown. He also had one of McKenzie's two interceptions on the night.

"I can't say enough about how we played and how our kids prepared for this moment," McKenzie coach Wade Comer said. "Our defense played lights out. Our offense played well and our special teams played well. It was a complete team effort."

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The Rebels' defense held MASE to 109 total yards, including just nine yards passing. MASE was 1-for-10 on third- and fourth-down conversion attempts.

McKenzie (14-0) will face Clay County (13-1) for the championship at 3 p.m. next Friday at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga. This is McKenzie's third state championship appearance. The Rebels lost to South Pittsburg, 24-21, in last year's title game and is seeking its first gold ball.

"We set a goal at the start of the season to get back to this point," Comer said. "The great thing is, most of the kids from last year are back so they know how to handle the distractions leading up to a state championship game and we're going to be better prepared going into it."

McKenzie’s Zach Aird (3) celebrates after the team made a stop during the playoff game between McKenzie High School and Fayetteville on  Nov. 18. McKenzie beat MASE in the Class 1A semifinals and will play for the state title next week.
McKenzie’s Zach Aird (3) celebrates after the team made a stop during the playoff game between McKenzie High School and Fayetteville on Nov. 18. McKenzie beat MASE in the Class 1A semifinals and will play for the state title next week.

Class 2A: Riverside 26, Huntingdon 13

After advancing to the state semifinals three out of the last four years, Riverside finally broke through, avenging a 33-7 loss to Huntingdon on Sept. 9.

Desmond Thomas had three rushing touchdowns and quarterback Ethan Quinn threw a touchdown pass to Jagger Cupples as the Panthers (12-2) will face Tyner Academy (13-1) at 3 p.m. Saturday at Finley Stadium.

"Our kids are excited to finally kick the door down," Riverside coach Johnnie Frost said. "We talked all week about getting (to the semifinals) and then being beaten. You expect to get to the championship at least one time when you've been to the semifinals a bunch. Now it's our turn."

Frost said Thomas has picked up the slack in the running game after Morgan Perez was lost for the season with a knee injury in the regular-season finale.

"As coaches and players, you have to adapt," Frost said. "That's what we've done. We've run the ball a little more with Desmond and he's rushed for about 830 yards in our three playoff games leading up to the semifinal.

"Now, for all our hard work, we get Tyner Academy. That's a daunting task but Tyner will get our kids' best effort and I like our chances."

Pearl-Cohn 53, Haywood 47

In what may have been the game of the night, Pearl-Cohn was able to outlast Haywood and end the Tomcats perfect season.

Pearl-Cohn opened the game recovering a Haywood fumble on the opening kick and a play later the Firebirds opened the scoring as Keshawn Tarleton connected with D'Arious Reed for a 26-yard touchdown. Reed would score Pearl-Cohn's next touchdown on the Firebirds following drive from 41 yards out.

The teams would continue trading touchdowns throughout the half as Haywood took a 33-25 lead in to the break.

Pearl-Cohn opened the second half with a four-minute touchdown drive and Haywood immediately Cordero Walker broke loose for a 91-yard touchdown run.

Walker finished the night with 216 yards rushing and four touchdowns on 16 carries. He also passed for 145 yards and another touchdown.

Pearl-Cohn would reclaim the lead after scoring on its next two drives and having its defense finally get the stops they had been unable to get in the first half. Javion Kinnard scored each of the Firebirds touchdowns during that stretch.

With Pearl-Cohn up 47-40 with just under four minutes remaining, Walker scored for the final time and tied the game at 47. Pearl-Cohn rebounded with Kinnard's third touchdown of the half and led 53-47 following a missed extra point with 2:17 remaining.

Haywood looked to be in prime position to score the go-ahead touchdown as they quickly drove into Pearl-Cohn territory. The Firebirds forced a few stops and Haywood was tasked with a fourth and eight with just under 25 seconds remaining on the Pearl-Cohn 25.

Haywood senior receiver Jamari Person was unable to make the reception to convert the fourth down and Pearl-Cohn began to celebrate.

This article originally appeared on Jackson Sun: TSSAA football: McKenzie back in 1A final; Riverside makes 2A final