Lions finish season with 13-1 record
By Jim Steele
Were Charles Dickens still around to see Friday night’s state semifinal battle between Dresden and McKenzie, he might have echoed his notion that it was the best of times and the worst of times.
Visiting Dresden dominated in the first half to lead 14-0 at halftime, but the Rebels rallied for 25 unanswered points to advance to the Class A state championship in Chattanooga. MHS captured a 25-14 victory.
The Rebels, 13-1, will advance to the Class A finals for the third straight year and will face South Pittsburg for the second time in three years. It will mark the third time the Rebels and Pirates will have met at the state championship. Dresden ends its season with a 13-1 mark.
McKenzie suffered a 42-14 home loss to Dresden in Week 2 of the season.
McKenzie senior Jake Cassidy’s 42-yard TD run with 1:53 to play in the game salted the contest away.
The Lions took advantage of McKenzie mistakes in the first half to take a 14-0 lead at the break. Dresden also got the ball on the second half kickoff. Things were looking good for the Lions. McKenzie was its own worst enemy in the first half. It was penalized eight times for 54 yards and kept a couple of Dresden drives alive. But the Rebels cleaned up their act and scored 25 points without response in the second half to earn their visa to Chattanooga.
During McKenzie’s first drive, two false-start penalties ended the drive and forced a punt. The Rebels drove into Dresden territory and attempted a 43-yard field goal, which was blocked. The two teams ended the first in a scoreless stalemate.
Dresden’s first scoring drive straddled the first and second quarters.
Dresden quarterback Cameron Schlicht hit Reese Bell for 37 yards, which helped set up the Lions first TD. Early in the second frame, Schlicht and Bell connected again for 13 yards. On the next play from the 2, Schlicht tip-toed his way into the end zone to give the Lions the early lead. Paul Betzou booted the first of his two PATs and Dresden led 7-0.
The Lions marched nine plays, 70 yards in 4:41 to take a 14-0 lead. With 4:59 to play in the half, Tristan Jett surged into the end zone from the 3. The Lions appeared to be in control.
Dresden had one more possession in the half, but the Rebel defense stiffened and kept the margin at 14 by halftime. As the second half debuted, the Rebels stopped Dresden’s first drive, which seemed to further swing the momentum McKenzie’s way.
The Rebels took over on their own 2 and rolled 98 yards for their initial score. The tally was set up by Tate Surber’s 38-yard pass to Brady Brewer down to the Dresden 8. After a motion penalty, the Rebels needed one play for Surber to connect with Colt Norden on a 13-yard scoring pass. The PAT missed, but the Rebels were back in the hunt, trailing 14-6 with 5:43 to play in the third.
Dresden took the ensuing kickoff at the 18, but was unable to move the ball in three plays. The Rebels took over on their own 43 and moved 57 yards in nine plays, ending with a 7-yard TD pass from Surber to Drew Chappell. The try for two failed, but McKenzie had narrowed the gap to two, 14-12 on the last play of the third quarter.
Dresden appeared to be on a mission during its next drive. The Lions had gains for 11, 15 and 6 yards but a fumble halted the drive and allowed McKenzie an opportunity to take the lead, which it did.
McKenzie took over on the Lions 36 and took advantage of a pass-interference call and a 45-yard pass from Surber to Norden, which camped the Rebels at the 3. Brewer ran it in from there with 7:43 to play. The try for two failed and McKenzie led 18-14.
After trading possessions, McKenzie took over with 2:08 to play from the Lion 42. On the first play from scrimmage, Cassidy bolted 42 yards up the middle of the field for the decisive score. Stafford Roditis booted the PAT and the Rebels led 25-14 with 1:53 to play.
Dresden marched to the Rebel 25 when time ran out. McKenzie was Chattanooga bound.
The Rebels accumulated 370 total yards, most of it through the air. After a slow start, Surber was 14-28 for 294 yards, Norden had three catches for 95 yards and a TD, while Roditis had four catches for 88 yards. Cassidy led the Rebels in rushing with two carries for 50 yards. The Rebels only gained 76 yards on the ground. For the game, McKenzie was flagged 10 times for 74 yards.
Meanwhile, Dresden had 270 total offensive yards, 90 coming on the ground. Schlicht was 13-19 passing for 180 yards. Jett carried for 22 yards. Nick Turnbow was the leading receiver with eight catches for 67 yards. The Lions were penalized four times for 40 yards.
The Rebels have been the state championship four times, meeting South Pittsburg three times. In 2007, the Pirates defeated McKenzie 52-20 at Murfreesboro. In 2021, South Pittsburg rallied from a 14-0 deficit to edge McKenzie 24-21. Last year, McKenzie defeated Clay County 34-14.
South Pittsburg defeated Oliver Springs in the other Class A semifinal 31-6. The Class A championship will be played 2 p.m. CST Friday, Dec. 1 at Chattanooga’s Finley Stadium.