Mercer County falls at Collins in tight quarterfinal contest
Published 11:50 pm Friday, November 17, 2017
By BRIAN RICKERD
SHELBYVILLE — In the immediate aftermath of Friday’s heartbreaking 34-28 loss to the Collins Titans in the Class 4A state football quarterfinals, Mercer County coach David Buchanan largely skipped over particulars and went straight to emotional damage control.
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“The score is unbearable right now, but what these kids have done and the improvements we’ve made since we walked off the field against Taylor County (a 47-19 home loss on Oct. 13) is phenomenal,” Buchanan said. “The night we walked of that field, these cats (Collins’ Titans) would have had a running clock on us in a quarter and a half. But tonight …”
Buchanan briefly let the thought drift in the air, perhaps being swamped by thoughts of what might have been for his team.
Mercer County finished another strong season at 7-6, while Collins moves on at 11-2 to face Franklin-Simpson in the state semifinals. Franklin-Simpson beat Hopkinsville, 35-20, Friday night.
Mercer County and Collins exchanged heavy body punches throughout Friday’s regional final.
Coach Jerry Lucas’ Titans appeared to have landed a knockout blow when his Titans recovered an onside kick with 11:20 left in the game and quickly drove for a touchdown to go up 34-21.
That was the biggest lead of the night for either team.
Mercer’s defense and will appeared to be on the brink at that point, though Buchanan remained confident.
“That’s the thing about our kids, we’ve made a living out of digging out of holes,” he said. “And we almost did it again.”
Mercer rallied, driving 76 yards to score on a 14-yard run by senior Jackson Lewis and a point-after kick by senior Caleb Morrison to close the Collins lead to 34-28.
And then senior safety Trevon Faulkner of Mercer intercepted a pass by Collins’ senior quarterback J.R. Lucas with close to five minutes left in the game. Faulkner ran the pick back some 60 yards to the Collins 8-yard-line, only to have an illegal block penalty force Mercer to start from its’ own 17.
“I felt good about it, I did,” Buchanan said of his emotions at that point. “We’d been able to move the ball all night, and I felt we’d be able to continue to do so.”
Buchanan was right.
Mercer slowly but surely drove the ball, as it had most of the night, and got as far as the Collins’ 15-yard-line with 34 seconds left.
Then, facing a third-and-10, senior safely Jacob Phillips of Collins intercepted Mercer senior quarterback Gunnar Gillis in the end zone to end the threat and Mercer’s season.
It was a shocking end to a fantastic football game.
“Tonight, I’m just so proud of how they hung in there and fought,” Buchanan said. “The result is very, very difficult to take right now, but the effort and improvement we showed … I couldn’t be prouder.”
The heroes were many for both sides.
Mercer’s multi-talented Lewis finished his high school career in high style, catching five passes for 67 yards and rushing 12 times for 71 yards and one touchdown.
Gillis was superb at quarterback, completing 15 of 26 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns.
Senior wide receiver Aaron Johnson caught four passes for 82 yards with two touchdowns, and Faulkner added two catches for 69 yards.
But Lucas was a handful for the Mercer defense as well, rushing 16 times for 164 yards and three touchdowns, while completing 10 of 19 passes for 106 yards and one more TD.
The game was as back and forth as the final score indicates.
Mercer scored first on a 37-yard pass from Gillis to Johnson, and Collins tied it on a one-yard plunge by Lucas that made the score 7-7 at halftime.
Lucas scored again from a yard out to put Collins up 14-7 midway through the third quarter, and Mercer closed within 13-14 three minutes later on a 1-yard run by Gillis.
Collins made it 21-13 late in the third on a 19-yard pass from Lucas to Nikos Klenakis, but Mercer tied it soon after on a 28-yard pass from Gillis to Johnson and a two-point conversion pass from Gillis to junior Jon Jon Logue.
The host Titans took what proved to be the lead for good, 28-21, on a 27-yard pass from Lucas to junior Sicari Toole and conversion kick by senior Webb Bates with 11:21 left in the game.
Collins went up two scores with 9:43 left on an 11-yard run by Lucas.