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Mercer County runs past West Jessamine, 36-22

They celebrated senior night before the game Friday at Mercer County. And by the time the evening was over, they were celebrating homecoming, too.

It was the final home game on the Titans’ schedule, but they won the right to return to Alvis Johnson Field in November by beating West Jessamine 36-22.

Mercer assured itself of no worse than a second-place finish in its district – and at least one home playoff game – and earned the chance to play for its first district title in three years next week.

“That was one of our goals in district play: getting a home playoff game so we’ll have more confidence,” said Mercer running back Bryson Yeast, who ran for 186 yards and two touchdowns. “It helps us a lot.”

Once again, victory did not come easily for Mercer. One week after Mercer let most of a three-touchdown lead slip away before beating East Jessamine, the Titans were one play away from triggering the running-clock rule late in the first half before West Jessamine battled back to make it a one-score game midway through the first quarter.

But the Titans survived to defeat the Colts for the eighth consecutive season, evening their overall record and remaining undefeated in district play. They will play at Taylor County next Friday in a game that will decide the District 4A-5 championship.

“We’d like to start the season better, but I’m glad we’re playing better now,” Mercer coach David Buchanan said. “As ugly as this was, we’re definitely playing better. This time last year, we were barely 2-1 in the district, and at least now we’re 3-0.”

It was ugly in many ways. After a 1-hour, 43-minute weather delay prior to kickoff, Mercer (4-4, 3-0 district) turned the ball over twice before scoring its first touchdown and had four turnovers in all. West Jessamine (4-4, 1-2) outgained the Titans 221 yards to 107 in the second half after Mercer had rolled up 364 yards and allowed just 108 in the first half.

And the victory that seemed so certain in the first half wasn’t clinched until Kaelin Drakeford intercepted a pass and returned it 48 yards for a touchdown with 3:13 remaining.

“We came out strong in the first half, but then we relaxed in the second half,” Yeast said. “I really don’t know (why). We think we’ve got the game won in the first half, so we come out and relax in the second.”

“But here’s the difference: Now we’re winning,” Buchanan said. “We were living on the edge and getting beat; now we’re living on the edge and we’re winning, so that’s a step in the right direction.

“I’m not happy with a lot of stuff tonight, but I’d rather win ugly than lose pretty.”

Buchanan said Mercer is playing good football “in spots,” and on Friday most of those spots were in the first half.

The Titans’ offense had great success on the ground in the first two periods, rolling up 275 yards and averaging 13.8 yards per rushing attempt.

“Up front, we were great in the first half,” Yeast said. “We had great blocks, and that made it easy for the running backs and the quarterback and the receivers to score.”

Malachi Yulee began the scoring with a 60-yard touchdown run four plays after an interception by Lane Horn, and Yeast scored on a 65-yard run on Mercer’s next offensive play.

A 10-play drive in the second quarter culminated in a 7-yard scoring run by Brayden Dunn, and Yeast broke free for a 78-yard touchdown run less than three minutes later to give the Titans a 29-0 lead with 2:31 left in the first half.

They got the ball back with 1:24 on the clock, and Drakeford got free for what appeared to be a 54-yard scoring run that might have made this a running clock game. But Mercer was flagged for holding, the touchdown was taken off the board the running clock never happened.

But the same offense that was so successful in the first half produced only three first downs in the second.

“We were real physical and we got after them in the first half, and that was good. We’ve still got to be able to do some other things for us to beat really good teams. The last two weeks we’re struggling to run the ball at the end of the game,” Buchanan said.

West Jessamine scored on its first series of the second half and on three of its first four. On the first play after a Mercer fumble, Desmond James threw a 75-yard touchdown pass to Emilio Hale to pull West Jessamine within 29-22 with6:08 to play.

The Colts got the ball back at their own 32-yard line with 4:23 remaining, but Drakeford picked off Noah Reliford’s pass on fourth-and-13 and returned it for the clinching score.

Drakeford completed four of nine passes for 89 yards and rushed seven times for 79 yards for Mercer, and Yulee had 82 rushing yards on eight carries.

“If we hold onto the ball and we play better fundamentally, we’re in good shape,” Buchanan said. “When we made mistakes tonight we made big ones, and it cost us.”

STATISTICS

At Harrodsburg

West Jessamine         0          0          7          15        –          22

Mercer County          15        14        0          7          –          36

First Quarter

Mercer – Malachi Yulee 60 run (Brayden Dunn run), 4:32.

Mercer – Bryson Yeast 65 run (Christina McClain kick), :21.

Second Quarter

Mercer – Dunn 7 run (McClain kick), 5:29.

Mercer – Yeast 78 run (McClain kick), 2:31.

Third Quarter

West Jessamine – Kane Lathery 5 run (Chris Collins kick), 8:29.

Fourth Quarter

West Jessamine – Desmond James 8 run (Emilio Hale pass from Noah Reliford), 8:29.

West Jessamine – Hale 25 pass from James (Collins kick), 6:08.

Mercer – Kaelin Drakeford 48 interception return (McClain kick), 3:13.