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McKenzie dominates Springfield’s rout of Ridley

SPRINGFIELD >> When the Springfield fans, clad in gold for childhood cancer awareness, swarmed the field to celebrate a 42-7 dismantling of Ridley Friday night, there was no doubt as to where the hoard of screaming fans was headed first.

Eventually order descended on the receiving line around Ja’Den McKenzie, once the adoring throng had thinned. Chalk it up as yet another dimension that the senior running back bent to his will.

McKenzie scored five touchdowns — three rushing, one receiving and one interception return — in a spectacular performance.

Put it another way: Of the 477 yards of offense compiled by both teams, McKenzie tallied 265.

Or if you’d prefer the sequential view, try these three successive plays bridging the third and fourth quarters. McKenzie, after a Pat Clemens interception, bolted 79 yards off left tackle for his fourth touchdown with 16.5 seconds left in the third, restoring a 28-7 edge.

On Ridley’s next snap, McKenzie burst into the backfield to throw Ociele Miller for a 10-yard loss. Then on the first play of the fourth, McKenzie scooped a sinking Nick Layden pass and rumbled 28 yards untouched for his fourth defensive score of the year … and the final nail in Ridley’s coffin.

“I just play my best out there,” McKenzie said. “I take it 100 percent, no matter what. Don’t take any plays off.”
McKenzie opened the scoring in an insipid first half for both offenses with a 72-yard jolt. He hauled in a 16-yard pass from Jack Psenicska with 30 seconds left in the second quarter. Then he toted Springfield’s first play of the second half 57 yards to paydirt.

“When he’s in the open field, it’s pretty hard to take him down,” Clemens said of McKenzie. “That’s a big dude, running at you full speed. If he’s outside the tackle, he’s going.”

It’s a good thing McKenzie brought his explosiveness, because no one else on the offensive side did, shy of Philip Shovlin’s late 58-yard score for Springfield (6-0, 5-0 Central).

Psiencska scuffled, going 4-for-16 passing — one of the completions batted from the intended receiver to another set of Springfield arms — for 83 yards. Shovlin had minus-2 yards before his TD. And the dynamic Kyle Long touched the ball just twice. His most notable contribution was a play late in the second quarter that didn’t count: A punt batted but not downed by a Ridley player that Long astutely grabbed and sprinted 28 yards for a score only to have it wiped out for an inadvertent whistle. McKenzie scored five plays later anyway, after Ridley turned it over on downs.

About that Green Raider offense: It accounted for 97 yards on 59 plays. Miller carried 10 times for minus-1 yard. Layden (5-for-11 for 32 yards) was picked twice. And Ridley (2-4, 1-4) amassed as many punts as first downs (seven).

“We’ve just got to come together as a unit and see where our character’s at,” lineman Ryan Kennedy said. “We work hard all week at practice and we’ve got to come together as one unit in the games. In the game, we’re making mistakes we’re not making at practice.”

Ridley got a glimmer of hope in the third when Kamal Richardson returned a kick 64 yards, spurring a drive capped by Layden’s three-yard dive. The Green Raiders again drove to the Springfield 25 in a two-score game, but Clemens shifted the balance back, reading Layden’s eyes and picking off a crossing route.

“We’re on them the whole game,” Clemens said. “We want to give all the energy. We’re trying to keep the tempo up. They score — we know that they have a good offense and they’re going to put it in — but we just have to bounce back, and I think we did today.”

Having McKenzie didn’t hurt either.

“We didn’t back down,” McKenzie said. “We were just taking it play-by-play and kept going. We didn’t let one play take us out of that.”

And that allowed one play from McKenzie to take Ridley out of it.

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