Jaguars hold off late Mercer County rally
Published 12:47 am Saturday, September 30, 2017
HARRODSBURG — It is a familiar spot for Mercer County, but in this case there is no comfort in familiarity.
The Titans’ backs were firmly against the wall before they played their best football Friday, and a loss to East Jessamine has put their backs against the wall in their district for the second straight year.
Mercer lost 30-27 at Alvis Johnson Field after allowing 30 unanswered points and coming up short in a late comeback attempt.
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“I’m proud that we continued to fight hard and we played hard, but we’ve got to play a more complete game,” Mercer coach David Buchanan said. “One thing that’s been consistent here for us is we seem to do our best work when our backs are against the wall. Well, we’re right back there again. We’ve got good kids and good coaches, and we’ll keep battling. It just gets old being in this spot.”
For the past two years, the game between East Jessamine and Mercer County has decided the championship of District 4A-5, even though it is only the Jaguars’ first district game and the Titans’ second. That’s because these two teams have only lost to each other within the district.
And for the second straight year, Mercer has fallen behind in the race for first place. East Jessamine won this game by the same score last year en route to its first district championship, and Mercer rode a 19-0 victory to a district title in 2015.
Now the Titans must win their two remaining district games Friday at West Jessamine and Oct. 13 against Taylor County to ensure they will at least finish in second place and have the chance to play at home in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs.
“We’ve got to find a way to play four good quarters,” Buchanan said. “There’s not an easy answer. The best answer is we keep coaching our kids.”
Mercer (4-3, 1-1 district) scored first Friday but did little else on offense until the second half, by which time it had fallen behind 30-7.
“When you play that bad in the first half, that’s on the head coach. I didn’t do a good job of getting them ready to play, and that’s my fault,” Buchanan said.
The Titans ran only 31 plays — 37 fewer than East Jessamine — and possessed the ball for only 11:20. They finished with 209 yards, including just 56 on the ground.
“I don’t want to make excuses, but we had a lot of guys miss a lot of practice this week, and it sure did show up. We tried to make adjustments on Thursday to help us with it, but we played like we had a lot of guys miss practice,” Buchanan said.
The Mercer coach said he wasn’t surprised that East Jessamine (3-4, 1-0) was able to have success with its running game and to score some points. The Jaguars are a run-oriented team and were facing a Mercer defense that has struggled to stop the run and was without four injured starters.
They ran for 251 of their 352 yards, led by workhorse Connor Hearn, who carried the ball 36 times for 171 yards and two touchdowns and threw a halfback pass for another TD.
He was, however, surprised that Mercer couldn’t do more on offense. After all, the Titans were averaging 40.8 points and 419 yards per game, and they had exceeded that scoring average in each of their three previous games.
But the offense simply couldn’t stay on the field. The Titans didn’t convert on third or fourth down until the fourth quarter, when they got 138 of their 209 yards, and managed only two first downs in the first three periods, when they ran only eight, six and three offensive plays.
“Our offense helped them too much,” Buchanan said. “I’m not surprised that they scored some points; we just felt like we could score a few more. We didn’t execute our offense tonight. We executed very poorly.”
Mercer’s comeback attempt even began on defense, as Jackson Lewis returned an interception 33 yards for a touchdown midway through the third quarter to pull the Titans within 30-14.
The Titans scored on their next two possessions, but only after East Jessamine burned nearly 5 1/2 minutes off the clock with one drive and better than 6 minutes with another.
Lewis’ 3-yard touchdown run three plays after he had a 37-yard pickup made it 30-20 with 9:25 remaining, but he was stopped on a two-point conversion attempt that would have made it a one-score game.
On Mercer’s next series, Aaron Johnson caught four passes totaling 86 yards to get the Titans to the 1-yard line. Lewis scored from there with 2:04 to play to pull the Titans within three points, but they never got the ball back.
Lewis had 73 rushing yards on 11 attempts. Gunnar Gillis completed seven of 14 passes for 153 yards, including a 72-yard bomb to Trevon Faulkner for a first-quarter score on the game’s most spectacular play.
The score came on a reverse flea-flicker, as Johnson took the handoff from Gillis, handed the ball to Lewis going the opposite direction, who flipped it back to Gillis who threw deep downfield to Faulkner, who scored four plays after he had recovered a fumble on defense.
East scored on three consecutive possessions following the turnover. Cameron Garrett’s 41-yard touchdown pass to DeAnte Sanon early in the second quarter gave the Jaguars a 14-7 lead, Hearn’s 4-yard pass to Storm Wilson on fourth down made it 21-7 and they added a safety shortly before halftime.
Hearn carried the ball on the first seven plays of the second half, scoring from 4 yards out to make it 30-7.
East Jessamine 7 16 7 0 – 30
Mercer County 7 0 7 13 – 27
Mercer – Trevon Faulkner 72 pass from Gunnar Gillis (Caleb Morrison kick), 7:29.
East Jessamine – Connor Hearn 6 run (Parker Harris kick), 1:17.
East Jessamine – DeAnte Sanon 41 pass from Cameron Garrett (Harris kick), 9:35.
East Jessamine – Storm Wilson 4 pass from Hearn (Harris kick), 1:56.
East Jessamine – Safety, 1:04.
East Jessamine – Hearn 4 run (Harris kick), 8:37.
Mercer – Jackson Lewis 33 interception return (Morrison kick), 5:17.
Mercer –Lewis 3 run (run failed), 9:25.
Mercer –Lewis 1 run (Morrison kick), 2:04.
First downs 17 7
Rushes-yards 63-257 17-56
Passing 101 153
Comp-Att-Int 3-5-1 7-14-0
Fumbles-Lost 5-1 0-0
Penalties-Yards 8-63 5-43
RUSHING–East Jessamine, Connor Hearn 36-171, Cameron Segar 13-47, Yamar Woods 3-16, Valdon Miles 3-13, Cameron Garrett 3-7, Storm Wilson 2-6, team 3-(minus-9). Mercer, Jackson Lewis 11-73, Peyton Owens 1-1, Malachi Yulee 1-(minus-1), Gunnar Gillis 3-(minus-2), team 1-(minus-11).
PASSING–East Jessamine, Garrett 2-4-1-97, Hearn 1-1-0-4. Mercer, Gillis 7-14-0-153.
RECEIVING–East Jessamine, DeAnte Sanon 2-97, Wilson 1-4. Mercer, Aaron Johnson 5-82, Trevon Faulkner 2-71.