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Huntingdon vs. McKenzie is a big deal

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I moved to McKenzie in March of 1974 and learned very quickly about the series between the Rebels and Huntingdon.

Of course, McKenzie was still relishing the thrilling 1973 victory over its cross-county rival. I was, at that time, a seventh grader at Hoover Junior High in Indialantic, Florida, where the Hawks went 4-2 that season.

Not that anyone around here cares.

But I heard all the stories about that game. How it was played in a snowstorm with hurricane force winds, blah blah blah. The urban legends were profuse. I do know that McKenzie was rolling through a 9-1 regular season and, at one point in time that year, was ranked No. 1 in the state.

The Rebels had some great players in those days: Murray McCaleb, Julius Sims, Ben Howard and All-American Terry Bateman. Bateman was the quarterback and one of the top football players in the area.

He also was the Rebel kicker, the kicker who booted the game-winning field goal to beat the Mustangs for the first time since 1963. That year, McKenzie defeated Huntingdon at its homecoming on Pudor Field, and the story goes that former McKenzie hardware merchant, the late J.A. Abernathy, danced on the field after the game. That’s a story for another time.
I’ve heard a zillion stories about that game.

Sims told me that McKenzie had raced to a 20-0 lead over Huntingdon, then had a meltdown. Huntingdon rallied to take a 21-20 lead when McKenzie got within striking range with about three seconds left on the clock. Now I’ve heard stories that Bateman drilled a kick in excess of 40 yards or so. I’ve heard he booted it from midfield. One day I looked it up in an old newspaper archive and discovered the kick was 26 yards, sailing through the uprights as the horn sounded. But the victory was still important to the townsfolk of McKenzie.

The Rebels wouldn’t taste victory over Huntingdon again until Sept. 13, 1985, when MHS won 13-6.

Look, I’m not trying to rub Huntingdon’s nose in it over a game that occurred 46 years ago. My point is that I was apprised of the special nature this game holds. It’s a rivalry game between, as former Mustang coach Mike Mansfield called them, neighbors from across the ditch.

There have been some great players from both sides, too numerous to name. I’ve gotten to see many of them during these past 45 years in McKenzie. I’ve seen my share of tail-kickings administered by the Mustangs. I’ve also seen my share of thrilling victories by the Rebels.

One of the oddest games I’ve ever covered between the two teams was back in 1981, when the Mustangs forced a late safety and defeated McKenzie 2-0. There hadn’t been a 2-0 game at McKenzie’s field since the Rebels beat favored Paris-Grove 2-0 back in the 1950s.

I doubt there was a 2-0 decision before that Paris game, and I can assure you, there hasn’t been another 2-0 MHS games since that 1981 setback, though in 2002, McKenzie did lose at Lexington 3-2 … in case you wondered.

The Rebels gave up a homer in the ninth on that fall night at Jim Stowe Field.
That’s a joke, in case you wondered.

I recall Derek Carr’s breakout game in 2006 at Huntingdon’s homecoming, when the game was delayed by a severe thunderstorm for nearly 90 minutes. The Rebels began a string five straight wins over Huntingdon with the 31-17 triumph.

I recall the night when Boo Weathers had 300-plus total yards in a 48-0 victory at McKenzie in 2005. After that game, Mansfield said, “If Weathers isn’t the state player of the week, then there ain’t one.”

There have been some great performances from these two schools, though, to the chagrin of Rebels fans, there have been a lot more of them from Huntingdon.

Huntingdon owns a 65-22-1 mark over the Rebels (or Yellow Jackets, as the were known up until World War 2), and, as such, perhaps the Mustangs don’t regard McKenzie as a rival as much as McKenzie does Huntingdon. I’ve been told many times that Huntingdon regards Milan as its principle rival. That may be true, but it sure seems that the stands are packed whenever Huntingdon and McKenzie play.

Huntingdon opens at McKenzie Friday night. May I suggest you get there early?

Jim Steele is a correspondent for Magic Valley Publishing and host of The Pressbox, which airs 4-6 p.m. CT Monday-Thursday on WRJB 95.9 FM, Camden, Tenn.

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