HARRODSBURG - In a game dominated by defense, Mercer County used two interceptions in the fourth quarter to secure a 48-28 win over pass-happy Nelson County on Friday night.
The game started about 45 minutes late because of a lightning delay — and host Mercer’s offense also started slow.
“We just were not focused. Maybe it was all the commotion during the delay,” Mercer coach Chris Pardue said. “But this group does not quit. We felt we let two games get away against Madison Central and Lexington Catholic. We talked all week about finishing, and tonight we did that.”
The Titans did that because of the one-two running punch of halfback James Johnson and quarterback Darion Lewis. Johnson ran for 209 yards and five touchdowns — he had eight runs of 10 or more yards — and Lewis rushed for 182 yards and one touchdowns — he had five plays of 24 or more yards. Throw in 92 yards on three carries by Jordan Ellery before he was injured, and the Titans rushed for a season-best 468 yards and averaged over 10 yards per attempt.
“Our offensive line was really good,” Pardue said. “Our guys running the ball ran hard. We struggled with our passing game and just had to find different ways to win. We had to get creative with our quarterback play, but we got the win. Plus, we needed to run to keep their offense off the field.”
Nelson quarterback Dylan Beasley had thrown for 2,475 yards and 27 scores coming into the game, including a state-record 533 yards and nine touchdowns a week earlier against North Bullitt. Against Mercer, he was 31 for 50 for 442 yards and three touchdowns. However, he was also intercepted three times.
“They had their way throwing the ball early, but we got better as the game went on,” Pardue said. “We changed our drops and coverages in the fourth quarter and got two huge interceptions. We made plays when we needed them.”
Beasley’s 7-yard toss to Drew Martin with 10 minutes, 43 seconds left tied the game at 28-all, but a 27-yard run by Lewis quickly set up a 1-yard scoring plunge by Johnson to give Mercer a 35-28 lead with 9:06 left.
Mercer’s Dylan Logue picked off Beasley’s pass at midfield, and five plays later Johnson broke three tackles at the line and scored from 15 yards out.
Four plays after that, Chris Crawley-Goodman stepped in front of Beasley’s intended target to pick off a pass and returned the interception 57 yards to give the Titans a 48-28 lead with 5:14 to go. The Titans also forced a fumble at their own 5-yard line on Nelson’s final series to prevent another score.
“I am so happy we won the turnover battle,” Pardue said. “That’s a big step for us.”
Mercer (3-3) had to survive a shaky first quarter to stay in the game. Nelson (3-4) ran 25 plays to Mercer’s six, but the game was tied at 7-7. Nelson scored on an 11-yard reception by Austin Lavvorn before Mercer took advantage of a big miscue — Nelson punter Jonathan Breeding put his knee on the ground while fielding a low snap at his own 16 — and tied the game on Johnson’s 15-yard run.
The Titans needed a key third-down sack by G.W. Anderson to stop Nelson after it reached the 2-yard line late in period one, and they stopped the Cardinals inches short of a first down at the Mercer 30 midway through period two.
They then marched 70 yards in just five plays to take the lead at 14-7 on Johnson’s 34-yard run. The lead could have been bigger at halftime, but Johnson dropped the ball at the 1-yard line and Nelson recovered with less than a minute to go before intermission.
“I thought overall James had a good game. My only disappointment was that fumble,” Pardue said. “But James is a very capable runner. He’s kind of deceiving, because not everyone understands how powerful he is with his legs.”
Lewis had a 54-yard run to set up his 8-yard scoring run early in period three before Nelson’s Charlie Berry returned the kickoff 90 yards to cut Mercer’s lead back to 21-13.
Nelson tied the game on Beasley’s 15-yard throw to Ben Jones and two-point conversion pass to Tommy Land with 3:09 left in period three. However, the tie didn’t last long, as Johnson broke at least five tackles on a 63-yard run to give Mercer the lead for keeps at 28-21 and set the stage for the defense to close out the win.
“We had a lot of guys play well for us to get this win,” Pardue said. “Now we have to make sure we build on this and keep improving. You can never be satisfied with what you do.”
Nelson County 7 0 14 7 — 28
Mercer County 7 7 14 20 — 48
Nelson — Austin Lavvorn 6 pass from Dylan Beasley (Jacob Rogers kick), 8:32.
Mercer — James Johnson 15 run (Stetson Cooley kick), 4:31.
Mercer — Johnson 34 run (Cooley kick), 5:10.
Mercer — Darion Lewis 7 run (Cooley kick), 10:14.
Nelson — Charlie Berry 90 kickoff return (kick blocked), 9:59.
Nelson — Ben Jones 15 pass from Beasley (Tommy Land pass from Beasley), 3:09.
Mercer — Johnson 63 run (Cooley kick), 2:53.
Nelson — Drew Martin 7 pass from Beasley (Rogers kick), 10:43.
Mercer — Johnson 14 run (Cooley kick), 9:06.
Mercer — Johnson 15 run (Cooley kick), 6:17.
Mercer — Chris Crawley-Goodman 57 interception return (kick failed), 5:14.
First downs 24 18
Rushes-yards 24-67 45-468
Passing 375 1
Total Net Yards 442 469
Comp-Att-Int 31-50-3 1-5-0
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 3-1
Penalties-Yards 7-58 10-66
RUSHING—Nelson, Ben Jones 12-55, Dylan Beasley 10-28, Charlie Berry 1-minus 2, Jonathan Breeding 1-minus 14. Mercer, James Johnson 23-209, Darion Lewis 16-182, Jordan Ellery 3-92, Braxton Bradshaw 3-0.
PASSING—Nelson, Beasley 31-50-3-375. Mercer, Lewis 1-5-0-1.
RECEIVING—Nelson, Khalil Bourn 8-84, Jones 8-82, Austin Lavvorn 5-62, Breeding 4-45, Drew Martin 3-55, Tommy Land 3-47. Mercer, Russell Sims 1-1.