Mercer excited for rematch with East Jessamine

Published 9:07 pm Wednesday, November 8, 2017


Contributing Writer

Two teams with contrasting styles, but similarly effective results clash in the second round of the Class 4A state football playoffs Friday when the Mercer County Titans take on the East Jessamine Jaguars in Nicholasville.

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Mercer County brings a 6-5 record into the contest, while East Jessamine is 7-4.

Coach David Buchanan’s Titans opened the playoffs with a 27-24 win at Franklin County Friday, while Coach Mike Bowlin’s Jaguars dismantled visiting North Oldham, 42-6.

The Mercer-East game is a rematch of a battle on Sept. 29 when Bowlin’s team built a 30-7 lead and then had to hold on to edge the Titans, 30-27, in Harrodsburg.

The contrasts in that affair make Friday’s matchup all but impossible to predict.

East won the first one largely by following its’ blueprint —pound the ball with its’ three-headed running game of Connor Hearn, Storm Wilson and Yamar Woods.

Hearns leads East in rushing this season with 736 yards, with Wilson at 625 yards and Woods 540 yards.

Those three players helped the Jaguars control the football for nearly 36 minutes of the Sept. 29 game.

Still, Mercer’s relatively big-play offense and athletic defense nearly pulled it out.

“I think we’ve got to be more physical,” Buchanan said when asked how the Titans reverse the outcome Friday. “We weren’t physical at all the first game, and that’s got to change. East plays a physical brand of football, and we’ve got to be more physical than what we have been.”

Buchanan said the improvement is both a matter of attitude and health. His team has been dogged by injuries throughout this season.

In that first meeting, Mercer played without junior running back/defensive back Jon Jon Logue, as well as sophomores Kaelin Drakeford and Bryson Yeast.

“Those are three of our best players, and we have all of them back,” Buchanan said.

“I think both teams are going to be better,” Buchanan added. “I think we’re much, much better.”

The Titans’ offense presents multiple issues for the Jaguars.

Mercer County has two outstanding wide receivers in seniors Aaron Johnson and Trevon Faulkner. Johnson has 28 receptions for 772 yards and 10 touchdowns, and Faulkner has caught 27 passes for 438 yards and 10 touchdowns at wideout.

Senior quarterback Gunnar Gillis is having a good year as well, completing 91 passes in 165 attempts for 1,969 yards. Gillis has thrown for 24 touchdowns against just five interceptions.

Focus too much on Johnson, Faulkner and Gillis, however, and senior back Jackson Lewis could be lethal for Mercer. Lewis leads the team in rushing with 854 yards on 124 carries, with 11 touchdowns, and he’s caught 21 passes for 507 yards and five scores.

The Titans certainly have Bowlin’s attention.

“They are very athletic on defense, so it’s very hard to score on ‘em from way out,” Bowlin said. “We’re going to have to do what we do, which is grind it out and wear them down a little bit.

“And then on offense, it’s their big-play capability. They have playmakers everywhere. Blink your eye, and they can score 21 points on you. They have running backs that are fast, a quarterback that can throw it and probably the two best receivers in Class 4A.”

Buchanan said the game will come down to three staples common in most games.

“We want to win turnovers, special teams and big plays,” Buchanan said. “If we win those three things, we feel like we can win.”

Friday’s winner moves on to face the Collins-Shelby County winner next Friday in the state quarterfinals in what appears to be a wide open Class 4A.

“(4A) is wide open, but for us right now the Super Bowl is against East Jessamine,” Buchanan said. “We’ll worry about the rest of it if we can get them.”