The Titans proved they are capable of playing with any team in the state Friday night taking a 16-14 lead into the fourth quarter against the number three ranked team in Class AAAA, Lexington Catholic.
Mercer, however, was unable to prove they were capable of beating elite teams as the Knights rallied, out scoring Mercer by 20 points in the fourth quarter and getting the win, 34-16, in both team’s district opener.
“We got where we wanted to, with a chance to win, but we didn’t finish the job. And that’s where we’ve got to learn, that’s where we’ve got to get to as a program, to be able to finish,” Mercer Head Coach Chris Pardue said.
Mercer’s offense looked stagnant on their first two possessions going three and out each time for a combined 26 yards of offense. Their defense kept them in the game, however, with Titan Russell Sims recovering a fumble on the Knight’s opening drive and forcing them to punt on their second drive.
The Titans switched gears on their third offensive possession, replacing sophomore Austin Sparrow with senior Darion Lewis.
“We planned on using both of them in this game, and both of them did their job. We just felt like with what we were going to try do with our game plan that Darion gave us a little better opportunity, and he ran the ball well at times,” Pardue said.
The switch paid off immediately for the Titans. Lewis took his opening carry for 19 yards, followed by a 51 yard touchdown run by James Johnson and left several would be Knight’s tacklers in his wake. A Stetson Cooley extra point put Mercer up 7-0 with 5:30 left in the first quarter.
Lexington Catholic answered five plays later when star quarterback Kyle Bolin scrambled out of the pocket and away from danger when he found Casey Nash on a 41 yard touchdown strike.
An unnecessary roughness penalty by Lexington Catholic on third and long gave the Titans drive new life at the Knight’s 30-yard-line. Johnson was able to punch the ball into the end zone six plays later on a two yard rush and gave the Titans a touchdown lead with 9:49 remaining in the first half.
The Knights wasted no time marching down the field following the Titans scoring drive, and looked in good position to tie the game facing first and 10 at Mercer’s 12-yard-line. Sims second take away of the game, this time an interception in the end zone kept Lexington Catholic from putting points on the board.
Mercer was unable to sustain a drive off the turnover and was forced to punt to the Knights with 4:25 left in the half. Lexington Catholic once again marched into Titan territory, but were turned away again with their second interception of the game, this time by Deron Bartleson taking a 14-7 lead into halftime.
Lexington Catholic wasted no time in the second half tying the game at 14-all just 53 seconds into the third quarter on a seven yard run by Amoh Kumengisa.