Clay County Falls In Class A State Championship Game To McKenzie 34-14

Story by Noah McKay, Photos by Rusty Ellis and Michael Lindsay

CHATANOOGA – The Clay County Bulldogs bid for the first Class A football state championship in school history fell short as they were defeated 34-14 by the McKenzie Rebels on Friday in Chattanooga.

The Bulldogs showed fight, but were ultimately unable to overcome the explosive Rebels’ attack. 

“I’m proud of these kids, they left everything on the field,” said CCHS head coach Bruce Lamb. “No regrets. We didn’t play perfect. (McKenzie’s) a really good football team. We knew going in we would have to play really well. They got some big plays, but hey I couldn’t have been prouder of my bunch.”

The undefeated Rebels started fast with a 55-yard touchdown rush by senior tailback Marquez Taylor on the first play from scrimmage to give them a 7-0 lead.

The Bulldogs were forced to punt after gaining one first down, and the Rebels then added to the lead on a 69-yard touchdown pass to make it 14-0 midway through the first quarter. 

“They come out fast with speed we haven’t seen all year long,” said Lamb. “We had to weather the storm. That’s a testament to our kids, they kept fighting.”

The resilient Bulldogs answered later in the quarter when Joseph Marcom took in a two-yard touchdown rush to follow a 39-yard run by Alec Kerr. A two-point conversion cut the McKenzie lead to 14-8 after one.

The Bulldogs had an opportunity to tie the game after an interception by Michael Smith, but a CCHS fumble two plays later gave the Rebels the ball back early in the second quarter.

The Rebels put together a 7-play, 63-yard drive that was capped off by a touchdown rush to regain a two-score lead at 20-8 at the end of the first half.

The Bulldogs had an opportunity to cut into the deficit on the opening drive of the first half when they drove inside the MHS five-yard-line, but the Rebel defense got a stop forcing a turnover-on-downs. 

The two defenses dominated a scoreless third quarter, but the Rebels ultimately put the game out of reach early in the fourth with a 25-yard touchdown pass.

Kerr got the second touchdown of the game for Clay County on a 16-yard touchdown rush later in the quarter, but the Rebels answered with a 47-yard touchdown pass 1:14 later to finish the game with a final score of 34-14. 

“We wanted to try and muddle it up,” said Lamb. “We did it for the most part, just lost them a couple of times.”

Marcom rushed 22 times for 117 yards and a touchdown. Kerr rushed nine times for 80 yards and a score. Keaton Arms went 4-11 through the air for 26 yards while rushing for nine yards. The Rebels outgained the Bulldogs 376 yards to 231.

The Bulldogs were led by a prolific nine-member senior class including both touchdown scorers in the game, starting quarterback Keaton Arms, and several critical linemen and receivers. Lamb said his group of seniors was special.

“They’re special,” said Lamb. “I get emotional every time I talk about them. They’ve worked their tails off. They’re leaders. They’ve played with each other since they were little kids. I’m so proud of them.”

The Bulldogs won the Region 4/A championship for the first time in school history. They made the semifinal round for the second time, and captured a runner-up finish in the state championship game for the first time.

“I don’t like practice anymore but I love going out to practice with these kids,” said Lamb. “It’s something new everyday. They go do what you ask them. They’re great kids to be around.”

Lamb said his team will be remembered for many positive things.

“(They’ll be remembered for) how talented they are and how great of leaders they are,” said Lamb. “They did something that’s not been done in Clay County ever. They’re special and I told them every day, they’re legendary.”