HARRODSBURG - Mercer County was trying to shock the world, but the Titans couldn’t generate enough power to pull it off.
The Titans led Lexington Catholic for most of three quarters Friday night, trying to hang on for what would have been an attention-getting upset of the No. 3-ranked team in Class AAAA.
But they couldn’t sustain the momentum they had gained by getting the jump on their opponent, and the Knights scored 20 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to rally for a 34-16 victory in the district opener for both teams.
Mercer (2-3, 0-1 Class AAAA, District 5) clung to a 14-7 lead at halftime and a 16-14 after three quarters against Lexington Catholic (5-1, 1-0). But the Titans couldn’t get move the ball in the second half as well as they had in the first and couldn’t contain the Knights in the fourth quarter as they had in the previous three.
“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 coach Chris Pardue said.
It could be said that Mercer made measurable progress simply by competing with Lexington Catholic one week after Anderson County routed the Titans by the same 48-7 score that Lexington Catholic beat them by last year. But Pardue said he doesn’t want them to look at this loss any differently than the one before it.
“A loss is a loss. They all hurt me — and I think they hurt the kids — just the same. I don’t believe in moral victories,” he said.
Lexington Catholic outgained Mercer 249 yards to 54 in the second half and 141 to 8 in the fourth quarter. The Knights had just two more plays than Mercer through three quarters but ran 18 plays to the Titans’ nine in the final period.
“Our game plan going in was to try to limit their offense to as few snaps as possible, and in the fourth quarter they got a lot of snaps,” Pardue said. “I thought our defense, until the fourth quarter, played outstanding.”
Mercer’s offense got a boost from Darion Lewis, who replaced Austin Sparrow at quarterback in the first quarter and led scoring drives on consecutive series. Lewis directed a run-based offense in which he and James Johnson split the carries and frequently fooled Lexington Catholic’s defense with fakes.
“(Lewis) makes them a lot better. We hadn’t seen him on film, didn’t really prepare for a lot of that zone read stuff with him in, so we had to make a lot of adjustments on the fly,” Lexington Catholic coach Bill Letton said.
Pardue said that after J.T. Long, the returning starter at quarterback, was injured days before the start of the season, the Titans worked on an offensive plan in which Lewis and Sparrow would share the position. But two different injuries forced Lewis, a wide receiver with some experience at quarterback, to miss two games and most of a third.
“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.
Pardue said he’ll probably use both Lewis and Sparrow at quarterback in the coming weeks.
“Oh, yeah, I think so, because both of them bring something different to the table,” he said.
Lewis ran 17 times for 90 yards, 63 of which came on Mercer’s two scoring drives. Johnson ran 20 times for 103 yards, and he scored both of the Titans’ touchdowns.
But it was Lexington Catholic that was doing most of the running in the second half. Amoh Kumengisa rushed for three touchdowns and the Knights had 127 of their 138 rushing yards after halftime.
Still, Mercer led 16-14 for the final 6 minutes, 14 seconds of the third quarter after being awarded a safety when Lexington Catholic’s Kyle Bolin grounded the ball in the end zone under pressure by the Titans’ defense.
The Titans were in front for about 75 percent of the first three periods before Lexington Catholic took its first lead on the second play of the fourth quarter, by which time the tide had already started to turn.
“We stayed with our game plan, and we got to where we wanted to. We wanted to be in the fourth quarter with a chance to win the ballgame. They made some plays and we didn’t,” Pardue said.
Following the safety, Mercer converted on fourth-and-1 in Lexington Catholic territory with an 11-yard run by Lewis, then was stopped at the Knights’ 36-yard line and forced to punt.
Lexington Catholic answered with an 11-play, 80-yard drive that included two third-down conversions and took a 20-16 lead on Kumengisa’s 4-yard touchdown run.
Mercer went three-and-out on all three of its fourth-quarter possessions, while Lexington Catholic covered 65 yards in just four plays to take a 27-16 lead with 8:00 remaining on Bolin’s second touchdown pass, then drove 67 yards in eight plays for Kumengisa’s final score with 3:42 remaining.
Bolin finished 17 for 28 for 273 yards. He was 9 for 13 in the first half, but he also threw two interceptions, and the Knights had three turnovers in all.
“We were God-awful,” Letton said.
Mercer’s Russell Sims recovered a fumble in the first quarter and intercepted a pass in the end zone in the second, and Deron Bartleson also had a second-quarter interception, but the Titans couldn’t turn any of those turnovers into points.
Their first score came two plays after Lewis took over at quarterback, which followed three-and-outs on their first two series. Lewis ran for 19 yards on the first play, then Johnson raced 51 yards for a touchdown.
Lexington Catholic answered less than 2 minutes later with a 41-yard touchdown pass from Bolin to Casey Nash, but Mercer then marched 81 yards in 11 plays, got a break when the Knights were flagged for pass interference on a third-down incompletion and took a 14-7 lead on a 2-yard run by Johnson.
Lexington Catholic 7 0 7 20 — 34
Mercer County 7 7 2 0 — 16
Mercer — James Johnson 51 run (Stetson Cooley kick), 5:30.
Lexington Catholic — Casey Nash 41 pass from Kyle Bolin (Anthony Kersey kick), 3:46.
Mercer — Johnson 2 run (Cooley kick), 9:49.
Lexington Catholic — Amoh Kumengisa 7 run (Kersey kick), 11:07.
Mercer — Safety, 6:14.
Lexington Catholic — Kumengisa 4 run (pass failed), 11:41.
Lexington Catholic — Kersey 7 pass from Bolin (Kersey kick), 8:00.
Lexington Catholic — Kumengisa 10 run (Kersey kick), 3:42.
First downs 19 11
Rushes-yards 29-138 38-171
Passing 273 24
Total Net Yards 411 195
Comp-Att-Int 17-28-2 2-8-0
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 3-0
Penalties-Yards 8-58 5-38
RUSHING—Lexington Catholic, Amoh Kumengisa 8-68, Noah Mitchell 3-37, Kyle Bolin 5-21, Jaylen Jones 6-9, Josh Mesmer 1-6, Rashawn Raglin 1-3, Reese Ryan 3-0, Marcelis Logan 2-minus 6. Mercer, James Johnson 20-103, Darion Lewis 17-90, Austin Sparrow 1-0, team 2-minus 22.
PASSING—Lexington Catholic, Bolin 17-28-2-273. Mercer, Lewis 2-7-0-24, Sparrow 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING—Lexington Catholic, David Bouvier 10-141, Anthony Kersey 3-67, Casey Nash 2-50, Sam Letton 1-10, Malik Guidry 1-5. Mercer, Layne Peavler 1-17, Russell Sims 1-7.