SALINEVILLE - The first half had all the makings of an epic battle between backyard rivals. In the end, however, a second half slaughter ensued as the Indians ran over the Tigers en route to a 40-9 victory on Friday in the annual "Black and Blue Brawl" at Wigwam Stadium.
With the game tied, 9-9, at the break, Wellsville was energized and appeared to have the momentum on its side. It was Southern Local, however, which regrouped and emerged from the locker room on a mission.
While the Indians' potent aerial attack did its part, it was the ground game behind Mike McKenzie which did the most damage. McKenzie plowed through the Tigers' defense to the tune of 315 yards and a school record four touchdowns on 28 carries.
Southern Local quarterback Luke Griffith hands off to Mike McKenzie on Friday against Wellsville. (Photo courtesy of J.T. Higgins)
That wasn't the only record that was broke on the night.
Senior wideout J.J. Napierkowski had one of his lowest outputs of the season with two catches for 26 yards, but it was enough to push him past Trey Griffith on the all-time list for yards in a career and a season.
Finishing the night off with another school record was kicker Steven Treadway who connected on a 52-yard field goal to cap the scoring in the fourth quarter.
Southern Local coach Mike Skrinjar said his team was able to respond from a first half that didn't go as planned.
"We needed a little wake-up call at the half," he said. "But, you know what, that's what makes a good football team - responding to adversity. With it being a rivalry game, the emotions were flying in the first half. We just had to settle down and play Indians' football."
Skrinjar said himself and offensive coordinator Mike Schneider played a little "good cop, bad cop" with the Indians during halftime.
"Schneider got to them first," Skrinjar said. "He said he almost passed out he was so upset. I came in after that and just asked them to look me in the eye. I told them that I believed in them. That Indians' mindset allows them to fight through adversity. They're a rare breed. They believe in each other and there's strength in togetherness."
Wellsville coach Dave Skinner said an early second half penalty brought an abrupt halt to any momentum his team had gained.
"One undisciplined penalty in the third quarter changed the
whole complexion of the game," he said. "It might sound stupid saying one penalty changed things, but that was it. One dog-gone penalty."
Skinner said his team entered the game with the hopes of slowing down the Indians' passing attack. However, with the attention on Southern quarterback Luke Griffith, running lanes were opened for McKenzie.
"You have to pick your poison with them," Skinner said. "We only had five in the box because we were trying to defend the pass. They made some adjustments on their blocking schemes at the half and we weren't able to stop them."
Making matters worse for the Tigers was the loss of standout Marcus Moxley, one of the area's most dynamic playmakers. Moxley left the game midway through the first quarter and did not return after coming off the field with what appeared to be concussion-like symptoms.
"When you lose one of your best athletes, it hurts," Skinner said. "He's a two-way guy and when you lose that type of speed, it's hard to make up for it."
After a scoreless first frame, the game's first score came with 9:45 in the second quarter when McKenzie plowed his way to a 31-yard touchdown.
The Tigers would respond, however, on their very next possession. On a 3rd-and-19, Wellsville quarterback Jordan Sloan would find tight end Seth Bradford down the middle for what ended up being a 46-yard score after several broken tackles.
An interception of a Griffith pass two plays later by De'Shaun Coles set up a 25-yard field goal by Cavan Lemasters to give the Tigers a 9-3 advantage with 2:51 left in the half.
The Indians would move 63 yards to the Wellsville 11-yard line before the drive stalled and ended with a 28-yard field goal by Treadway putting the score at 9-9 entering the break.
It took only two plays in the third quarter for Southern Local to break the game open.
McKenzie found a seam, broke through several tackles and used his speed to race 73 yards for a touchdown giving the Indians a 16-9 lead.
Wellsville answered with an extended drive that advanced to the Southern 18-yard line. Then a 15-yard personal foul followed by a 5-yard false start infraction pushed the Tigers all the way back to the 36-yard line. Wellsville was unable to convert on a 4th-and-26.
"They hit that long run on us and it kind of took the wind out of us," Skinner said. "But we came right back and drove the ball. When we got that penalty you could just see the air being sucked right out of us. It was critical and we weren't able to get back in it."
From there, it was the 'Mike McKenzie Show.' Touchdown runs of 12 yards and 2 yards on the Indians' next two possessions put the game out of reach.
"We knew we could run the football," Skrinjar said. "We had faith in him. The coaching staff believed in him. He stepped up and rose to the occasion."
Griffith, who finished the night 11-of-21 for 153 yards, hooked up with Jared Shilot on a 29-yard scoring strike with 8:23 left to play to put the score at 37-9.
Then Treadway made history with a booming, line-drive kick that split the uprights from 52-yards away.
"He's the captain of our special teams," Skrinjar said of Treadway. "He's a perfectionist. He takes pride in what he does. He's not a secret weapon anymore, but he's definitely a weapon."
The loss drops Wellsville to 3-4 on the season and it will host McDonald next week. The victory puts Southern at 5-2 on the year and it will play at Western Reserve in Week 8.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Read Sunday's edition of The Review for more on Mike McKenzie's big night for the Indians.