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Unstoppable: Unbeaten MCC busts through to state football tournament

The unbeaten Murray County Central football team eased to victory in the Section 3A finals on Friday, beating Tracy-Milroy-Balaton 23-8 in Marshall.

MARSHALL — No defense has stopped Murray County Central running back Carter Benda this season.

A stiff breeze couldn’t do it, either.

Benda ran for 214 yards and junior quarterback Abe Paulzine had a hand in three touchdowns as the unbeaten, top-ranked Rebels defeated Tracy-Milroy-Balaton 23-8 here Friday afternoon in the Section 3A football championship game.

Benda, a 5-6, 165-pound junior, carried the ball 35 times for 214 yards unofficially — much of it into a 30 mph gusty south wind — as the Rebels improved to 11-0. He ran it 22 times for more than 130 yards in the second half as MCC dominated the final two quarters.

Benda has more than 1,600 yards rushing on the season. He also has 24 touchdowns, 19 via the run.

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“Oh goodness, it never fails to amaze me about Carter,” said Rebel senior center Dawson Blankenship. “I’ll be blocking and turn around and he’ll be gone. I don’t know what to say — he’s great.”

T-M-B senior standout defensive end Tony Nelson, a 6-7, 275-pounder who has accepted a scholarship from the Minnesota Gophers, was also impressed with Benda.

“You know, he keeps his feet moving and always gets the extra yards when it counts,” Nelson said. “He’s a tough runner.”

It was MCC’s second victory this season over TMB (8-3). The Rebels advance to the state tournament as one of the final eight teams alive in Class A. MCC will meet either Mayer Lutheran or Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop next Friday night at 7 in Jordan as the Class A state tournament gets under way. A victory there puts MCC into the semifinals at U.S. Bank Stadium.

“It was a great complete effort,” said MCC head coach Patrick Freeman. “We knew it was going to be a really tough battle and I’m proud of our guys.”

Though the Rebels turned it over five times, including a pair of fumbles by Benda, the MCC coach isn’t looking to trade his junior halfback.

“He is just a physical runner, man,” said Freeman. “He’s been our workhorse all year. It’s not just his speed, but it’s his physicality. And that showed here today.”

The Rebels opened the scoring with a 40-yard touchdown drive late in the first quarter, a march that began in Panther territory thanks to a 1-yard punt into the strong wind. Paulzine scored on a 1-yard run.

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Moments later, splendid senior halfback Ayden Horner of TMB raced 68 yards down the sideline for six. The Panthers added the 2-point conversion and led 8-7.

The Rebels answered immediately with a 68-yard touchdown drive that culminated in a well-executed screen pass to tight end Chant Mitchell on a 4th-and-11 call into the wind. The 23-yard touchdown reception by the sure-handed Mitchell, whose one-handed grab on a 7-yard completion contributed to the first scoring march, put the Rebels ahead to stay.

The Rebels tacked on a 53-yard touchdown drive against the wind in the fourth quarter. Benda, running better and better as the game wore on, carried the ball six times for 52 yards on the march.

“I put my head down and try my best every time,” Benda said. “I’m leaving everything on the field.”

Wind or no wind, having Benda run the ball is the MCC game plan.

“They were going to put the ball in my hands and I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do,” Benda said. “My offensive line is amazing. I couldn’t do it without them.”

Murray County Central’s defense was exceptional, allowing just 229 total yards. The Panthers had just 56 yards of total offense in the second half. The Rebels finished with 272 yards of total offense.

“To limit this TMB team to eight points is truly incredible,” said MCC coach Freeman. “They’re averaging over 40. To see our pursuit to the football, give credit to our coaches and our defense.”

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Senior linebacker Justin Scotting had a fumble recovery and an interception, while senior tackle Kevin Garcia had several tackles for loss and a fumble recovery.

Senior stars Christian Kuball, who ran for a 2-point conversion and amassed many tackles, and Nate Kleven never left the field while contributing on both sides of the ball.

“We just did our job,” said Garcia. “Everyone trusted the process and played with discipline. I can’t even tell you how good I feel right now.”

Said Scotting: “We came in with a good game plan, thanks to our coaches, and everyone performed and did what they were supposed to do.”

Tracy-Milroy-Balaton 8 0 0 0 — 8

Murray County Central 7 8 0 8 — 23

Related Topics: FOOTBALL
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