Prep Football: Mercer ready to expand its reach against Anderson
Mercer County defenders Juanya Johnson (48), Austin Coleman (78) and Bradley Lockwood (74) tackle West Jessamine¿s Justin Huffman in the Titans' win last week. Mercer plays at Anderson County on Friday. (Hal Morris / September 12, 2012)
The Titans have been largely getting by on the basics in their three games so far this season, but coach Chris Pardue said they’re itching to do more, and he’s ready to let them.
So as they prepare for their game Friday against Anderson County, they’re also practicing a few things that weren’t in the playbook when the season began.
“We’re at the point right now where we’re trying to add a few new wrinkles,” Pardue said. “It’s taken this long to get our base stuff down. Our kids have been wanting to do a few more things, and we’re taking those short, small steps to increase the looks we give people.”
Mercer (2-1) brings momentum into the game against its neighbor to the north after rallying with 10 points in the final 2 minutes to defeat West Jessamine last week.
Pardue said after the game that he thought the Titans were outplayed, but he said he was pleased with the way they fought until the final minute.
“Our kids found a way to win,” he said. “It’s really huge. We preached to them all summer that a game’s never over until it’s over, and I think that game Friday night will really stick with them that they now can finish a game and win a game.”
Pardue said he was especially happy with the decisive drive in which Mercer moved the ball 65 yards in 56 seconds for the winning score after its defense had forced a safety.
“We came back on offense and nobody panicked, we had good composure and people did what they were supposed to do,” he said. “Those were probably the four or five best-executed plays we’ve had all year.”
The Titans will again need that sort of execution against Anderson (2-1), which has beaten them by an average margin of 24 points in the three games since the rivalry was renewed in 2009.
This year’s Bearcats followed an opening-week loss to Bryan Station with wins over Garrard County and Shelby County. They were off last week.
“I think they’re a real good football team,” Pardue said. “They do a lot of things correct, they’re a fundamentally sound team, they’re a junior-dominated team. Most of their kids are juniors, but you can tell they’ve played in big games before and played some good teams.”
Quarterback Zach Carmichael, a sophomore, is following in the footsteps of older brother Seth, who led Anderson to the Class AAAAA finals last year. He has thrown for 723 yards and eight touchdowns, but he has also run for 144 yards.
“I think he’s as big a threat as a runner as he is as a passer,” Pardue said. “They like to spread out and run isolation plays for him, and that’s something we’ve got to be very aware of. Our linebackers have a tendency to play pass first, and that’s something we can’t do against him.”
Anderson is averaging 391 yards per game, with 62 percent of those yards generated by the passing game. Leading receiver Ross Cox has 16 catches for 448 yards and seven touchdowns.
The Bearcats’ defense is allowing 379 yards per game, and they gave up 41 points to Bryan Station and 34 to Shelby. Pardue said they will present several different looks both in the line and the secondary.
“They’re going to have a defensive plan going into the game, and they’re going to try to stick to it,” he said.
Mercer’s offense is averaging 347 yards per game, and the difference between the Titans’ rushing and passing totals is a scant 5 yards.
Running back James Johnson has rushed for 446 of the Titans’ 523 yards on the ground and has five touchdowns. Quarterback Austin Sparrow has thrown for 468 yards and three touchdowns, and Russell Sims leads a balanced receiving corps with seven catches for 166 yards.